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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Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The sprawling city skyline could have been the highlight of the Sixers' team dinner at One Liberty Place on Monday night. Instead, it was a surprise celebrity appearance that left it in awe.

Will Smith, who is part of the Sixers’ ownership, caught the players off guard when he visited with the team to offer advice and answer questions.

“Man, that’s one of my idols,” Nerlens Noel said following the first training camp session at Stockton University. “Everything he said I really took in and all the guys did too.”

Rather than entertaining the group with his acting or musical skills, Smith imparted important lessons that are applicable in sports. The 48-year-old has had decades of success across multiple platforms, and he offered pieces of wisdom that can resonate in any situation. 

“If you have bad people around you, that’s how people see you and that’s how you are,” Joel Embiid said. “He said to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

The Sixers had differing memorable moments the morning after Smith’s visit, which demonstrated how many topics he addressed with the team. 

“He’s a good guy,” Ben Simmons said. “I definitely learned a lot from hearing him talk … You’ve got to look at things from a positive and negative with every situation.”

Jahlil Okafor was especially caught up in Smith’s appearance. Smith is Okafor’s favorite actor, most notably for his role in I Am Legend, and impressed Okafor with his character. 

“We already know about his accolades and how smart he is and obviously he’s an entertaining person,” Okafor said. “But it just seemed like he really wanted to be there to help us out. I just took away that he was a great person.”

Okafor also added, “It just helps [to hear from him] because the road to success is pretty much the same. It’s about being focused, it’s about knowing that you’re going to be knocked down, you’re going to fail. That was one of the messages that Will Smith shared, was expect failure but the main thing is to get back up.”

Noel previously had seen Smith courtside at Sixers games, and this was his first opportunity to hear directly from him. Noel listened to everything Smith had to say, from how to deal with the media to ranking his best and worst movies. 

“Never get caught up in too much of the negativity,” Noel recounted. 

While people view professional athletes as celebrities, the Sixers were on the opposite side Monday evening. 

“It’s hard to get starstruck nowadays,” Noel said. “But when you see Will Smith, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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