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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As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”