Nationals, Braves Numbers 1 and 2 in SI Offseason Power Rankings, Phillies 16th

Nationals, Braves Numbers 1 and 2 in SI Offseason Power Rankings, Phillies 16th

One of the big arguments we keep hearing as to why the
Phillies have been such a disappointment this offseason is, “Look how much
better the rest of the NL East got,” specifically the Washington Nationals and
Atlanta Braves. Sports Illustrated clearly believes there’s something to that.

According to SI’s offseason power rankings, the Nationals
and Braves are the two top teams in Major League Baseball this
winter.

1.      
Washington
Nationals

Additions:
CF Denard Span, RP Rafael Soriano, SP Dan Haren, RP Bill Bray, RP Zack Duke

Subtractions: SP Edwin Jackson, 1B/OF Michael Morse, RP Sean
Burnett, SP John Lannan, RP Tom Gorzelanny, Util. Mark DeRosa, RP Mike Gonzalez

Last year's major league leader in
wins, with 98, ought to be even better a year later. The addition of Span gives
Washington the true centerfielder and leadoff hitter it has craved, while Haren
reasonably can be expected to pick up where Jackson left off and Soriano
deepens an already strong bullpen. The core players are mostly young with the
potential for growth (especially Bryce Harper) and remember that three of that
number -- ace Stephen Strasburg, reliever Drew Storen and catcher Wilson Ramos
-- missed time last year either with injuries or the fear thereof.

2.      
Atlanta
Braves

Additions:
OF Justin Upton, OF B.J. Upton, RP Jordan Walden, 3B Chris Johnson, C Gerald
Laird

Subtractions: 3B/OF Martin Prado, SP Tommy Hanson, SP Randall
Delgado, C David Ross, OF Eric Hinske, OF Michael Bourn*, 3B Chipper Jones*

Atlanta's production from its
righthanded hitters (49 HRs and a .671 OPS) was the worst in the NL. That's a
huge reason the Braves gave B.J. Upton the largest free-agent contract in team
history (five years, $75.25 million) and traded five players for his brother,
Justin. Jones retired but manager Fredi Gonzalez believes Justin Upton can be
the same middle-of-the-order presence for this young team on the rise. Atlanta
did, after all, win the same number of regular-season games as the champion
Giants (94) and did so with a slightly better staff ERA (3.42 for Atlanta, 3.68
for SF).

I’m still on the fence about just how “improved” Atlanta
really is. Sure, they will get more production from righthanders, but there is
plenty of overall production there to replace. I wouldn’t describe them as
being a vastly better team, and certainly not the runner-up for best team in baseball after the completion of this offseason,
but that’s me.

Hard to argue with the Nationals in the top spot though,
strengthening a core that won 98 games last season.

As for the Phillies…

16.  
Philadelphia
Phillies

Additions:
3B Michael Young, RP Mike Adams, OF Ben Revere, SP John Lannan, OF Delmon Young

Subtractions: SP Vance Worley, 3B Placido Polanco, RP David
Herndon, Util Ty Wigginton, RP Josh Lindblom

The rotation is still headlined by
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay -- though not in that order -- and
that's an encouraging start to any team, but Philadelphia's offensive
production (both total runs scored and league rank) has dipped three straight
seasons. On Opening Day the Phillies' four infielders and catcher will all be 33
or older, and the only player in that group who hasn't shown signs of decline
-- catcher Carlos Ruiz -- is suspended the first 25 games of the season for a
failed PED test. Adams and Jonathan Papelbon form a dominant back end of the
bullpen, which had been missing in Philadelphia.

First of all, 16th is hardly the disaster the Phils’
offseason has often been made out to be. As I wrote last week, the Phillies
didn’t necessarily need to make tremendous improvements seeing as they won 102
in 2011, and posted a .587 winning percentage in the second half last season
once they got healthy. True, they are relying on aging core, but they still appear
to be much better off in the bullpen (what about Chad Durbin, bro?) and at
third base at least.

In fact, some might argue this ranking is a little low.

We’ll see soon enough though, because baseball is right
around the corner. Pitchers and catchers report next week, and it won’t be long
after that before things start to get interesting.

>> Nationals, Braves lead NL quartet atop offseason Power Rankings [SI]

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Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday in Detroit

Noel joins Sixers in New Orleans, may play Sunday in Detroit

NEW ORLEANS — Nerlens Noel made another step toward his return from arthroscopic left knee surgery by joining the Sixers in New Orleans for their game against the Pelicans.

Noel arrived on Wednesday with Robert Covington, who is slated to start after missing the last three games with a left knee sprain. Noel is not cleared to play, but Brown doesn’t think it will be long until he suits up. 

“I don’t think far away,” Brown said of Noel’s regular season debut after shootaround.

When asked about the possibility of Noel playing this weekend when the Sixers face the Pistons on Sunday in Detroit, Brown replied, “Maybe.” 

Noel has missed the entire regular season recovering from elective surgery for an inflamed plica in October. He completed the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Ala. and has been continuing his work with the Sixers. This trip to New Orleans is the first time he has been with the Sixers on the road. 

“[He is] integrating with the team, studying a lot of tape, scripting with his teammates with the understanding that we have a chance to see him soon,” Brown said. “All that trying to ramp it up where he can go to an NBA court more comfortably.”

Noel spoke out about his displeasure with the Sixers crowded frontcourt at the start of the preseason. He recently stuck with his stance, saying, “I don’t think the roster’s changed.”

Brown is working to keep the team moving forward as a unit while still being aware of and recognizing Noel’s perspective. 

“It does,” Brown said when asked if Noel’s open frustration concerns him as it pertains to team cohesiveness. “But I feel like it’s so much a part of what we try do around here that it’s not like you’re going to blink and you’ve forgotten something that equals camaraderie, that equals team, that equals trying to keep this together, and you’ve left it for a week … 

“It’s a day-to-day focus for me and it’s a very candid conversation with me and the player. The team hears it, the individual hears it, we all understand it … We need to coexist and we need to understand the reality of it all, too. There’s a human side you understand. It’s also pride, it’s competitiveness, it’s do your job, it’s nothing is given, you’ve got to take stuff, draw your own line in the sand, competitors rule the day.”

Last season Noel averaged 11.1 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers will look forward to having him back on the court in that once-crowded frontcourt that is now shorthanded. Jahlil Okafor remained in Philadelphia with gastroenteritis. Ben Simmons still is rehabbing from a right foot fracture. 

"Soon you’re going to see Ben Simmons coming to a team bench where he doesn’t come out with boots and have to push him in some type of wheely apparatus," Brown said. "We’ve dealt with so many injuries trying to find that balance of dealing with their health and so on, and then trying to integrate them back into a team is part of growing a program."

Flyers fans send amazing postcards to their beat writers

Flyers fans send amazing postcards to their beat writers

I like to give Flyers fans a bit of a hard time on occasion, but that's only because I love them.

One beautiful Flyers fan today reminded me of why I love them.

They took the time to send a postcard to CSNPhilly.com's Flyers Insider -- and hater of the woo -- Tim Panaccio with one single word written on it.

"Woo."

Panotch says "Someone wasted a stamp and post card on this," but I say we just generated at least 50 cents in ad revenue from those of you that are reading this right now.

Money and time well spent.

Now, if you're not up on your wooing, Panotch penned a piece on how some fans wooing at games started annoying some of the players. Panotch hates the woo. BUT... and this is an important but... the Flyers are 6-0 since this all started. 

Woo.