Invisible Touch: Cliff Lee Owns the Marlins, Sets Some Cool Stat Benchmarks

Invisible Touch: Cliff Lee Owns the Marlins, Sets Some Cool Stat Benchmarks

That Cliff Lee is a badass is nothing new, that the Marlins are a terrible team is even un-newer. But tonight's performance from the Pfife Dog was nonetheless impressive by any standards, and did well to remind us that despite Cliff Lee's questionable status as a gargantuan-salaried pitcher on a sub-.500 team, we're pretty fortunate as a fanbase any time we get to watch this guy take the mound for us.

In eight innings of work tonight, Cliff Lee struck out 14 batters--a season-high, and the most he's struck out in a game for the Phillies since 2011, when he K'd a ridiculous 16 batters in seven innings (though he also let up three runs in a 3-0 loss to the Braves, overshadowing his impressive accomplishments some). He gave up a couple runs on eight hits (with no walks), but given that the Phils had already put seven on the board by the Marlins' first time across the plate, it was imminently forgivable. (The Phils would win 12-2, thanks to multi-run homers by Utley and Ruf and a whole bunch of other fun miscellaneous offense.)

Anyway, the 14 K's on the night gives Cliff a total of 201 for the season, which marks the third straight year he's cleared the 200 mark for the Fightins. Clayton Kershaw is the only other NL pitcher to have K'd 200 each of the last three years, and certainly something now other Phils pitcher has done this century. (Think you might have to go back to Lefty in the mid-'70s to find the last Phillies example, but someone with a paid B-R account is gonna have to double-check me on that.)

That was only half the story for Cliff last night, though. Our nine-hole hitter also went 3-4 at the plate, with a triple--his first in 292 career PAs--and four RBIs. Courtesy of ESPN Stats comes these delightfully obscure pieces of statistical ephemera:

Well. Any night you can match an historic outing by an Oscar-winning singer/drummer at the plate is a night to remember, indeed. Thanks for keeping it real in the face of all fakeness, Clifton. Hope you're still on the team next year.


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Eagles-Vikings: 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Vikings: 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles (3-2) have an extremely tough game against Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) on Sunday at the Linc.

The Vikings come out of their bye week as the NFL's only undefeated team, while the Eagles have lost to Detroit and Washington following their bye.

Here are five matchups to watch:

Sam Bradford vs. Eagles' defense
The big storyline all week has been the return of Sam Bradford to Philadelphia, where he spent the 2015 season and most of the 2016 offseason.

How much will familiarity play a role on Sunday?

Bradford clearly knows the Eagles' defensive personnel and scheme, having played against the defense throughout training camp. But on the flip side, the defense knows all of Bradford's tendencies. We dove into this in depth earlier in the week (see story).

What has made Bradford so good through his first four games with the Vikings (he didn't play in the opener) has been the way he's protected the football. He hasn't thrown an interception yet and the Vikings' offense hasn't yet turned the football over.

Stefon Diggs vs. Leodis McKelvin
Diggs might be a little banged up, but as long as he's on the field, the Eagles will need to keep an eye on him. Diggs is an absolute burner, so it's a good thing the Eagles will likely have their fastest corner, McKelvin back this week.

But McKelvin is coming off a hamstring injury that has bothered him since early in the season, so we'll need to see if he can make it through this game. If he can't, rookie Jalen Mills will get in the game. Without blazing speed, Mills had trouble containing DeSean Jackson last week.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Danielle Hunter/Brian Robinson
Big V's NFL debut wasn't a good one. He gave up five quarterback hurries and two sacks against Washington. This week, he'll have to deal with Robinson and Hunter on that right side of the offensive line.

Robinson and Hunter are each tied for the Vikings' lead with four sacks this season. They're likely salivating at the idea of seeing Vaitai on Sunday.

Kyle Rudolph vs. Malcolm Jenkins
While Diggs has been the Vikings' leading receiver, Rudolph is a dangerous component to the team's passing attack. Through five games, Rudolph has 21 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns.

It will be a team effort to stop him Sunday. At times, he'll be covered with a linebacker and at times a safety. We'll list Jenkins here because he gave up a touchdown to 32-year-old Vernon Davis last week.

Vikings' run game vs. Eagles' run defense
The Vikings have the worst run game in the NFL. They've average a league-low 2.45 yards per attempt. They’re the first team since the 2010 Broncos to have a rushing average of 2.5 or worse through five games. And they’re just the 11th team since 1940 to do it.

But the Vikings are going to try to run the ball against the Eagles. Why wouldn't they?

The Eagles were absolutely gashed for 230 yards by Washington. They had 10 missed tackles and gave up 156 yards after contact. Something's gotta give here.

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.