Phillies Need to Reverse First-Timers Curse vs. Cleveland Tonight

Phillies Need to Reverse First-Timers Curse vs. Cleveland Tonight

Guest post by Matt Hammond

Cleveland starter Zach McAllister has been perfectly average so far.

He’s is 1-3 with a 3.52 ERA in four starts. His record’s a product of
his shoddy run support: he’s surrendered no more than two runs in any
of his starts, but the Indians have plated three or fewer for him
in each. (Before you feel sorry for him: McAllister’s 3.50 RS/9 would be
the second-most on the Phillies, ahead of Roy Halladay (3.40), Cliff
Lee (3.20) and John Lannan (3.00), and behind Kyle Kendrick’s 4.40.)
Though his ERA, which ranks 57 of 109 qualifying starters, is mostly on him.

But tonight against the Phillies, McAllister enters with a distinct
edge if you consider the way the Phillies have fared in such situations
so far: he’s never seen them before.

Four times have the Phillies faced a starter who’d never before seen
them in their careers. They’ve worked a composite 2.05 ERA and .195
opponent batting average. In other words: never seeing the Phillies
before apparently makes you Adam Wainwright.

The Phillies are 1-3 in such games.

First-timer’s advantage isn’t only a Phillies problem.

Minor leaguers flooding the majors after September callups, for
instance, thrive off the fact that there’s (a) so many of them and (b)
so little film on them. Same goes for the beginnings of most seasons,
with many fresh off spring training victories for starting rotation
spots. Same for this one, too, the first of expanded interleague play.

The problem for the Phillies is that they should’ve shelled nearly all of these guys.

Wade Davis is basically a glorified reliever, having cracked the
rotation only after leaving Tampa for Kansas City via trade and posting a
4.22 ERA as a starter between 2009-11, which ranked 77th of 126
qualifying starters over the span.

To their credit, the Phillies touched him up for four runs in as many innings.

But he was the only one of the four they got to.

The rest? KC’s Luis Mendoza, Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Pittsburgh’s
Jeff Locke, who’ve allowed a whole one run in 18 combined innings, for a
0.50 ERA. This, despite the fact that they’ve had a combined 3.91 ERA
this year with two individuals north of 4.50.

Two of them, by the way, were righties. The only lefty, Locke,
entered with a .389/.450/.500 line against lefties, for the sixth-worst
lefty batting average in baseball. (Not surprisingly, Locke was behind
five righties in this category.) And yet Locke still tossed six
scoreless innings to effectively outduel Cole Hamels in a 2-0 loss on
Apr. 23.

On the year, Locke has a 4.50 ERA.

McAllister doesn’t seem like a push-over. He has a decent K% (19.8)
and doesn’t walk too many batters (7.9%) and throws five pitches with a
mildly quick 91.5 m.p.h. fastball.

He’s just got no business gassing the Phillies — as his first-timer peers have so far.

Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

Eagles 'not comfortable' after historic 3-0 start

They’re not just beating people. They’re destroying people. They're not just winning. They're doing it in historic fashion. And they're not just 3-0. They're 3-0 with a first-year coach and a rookie quarterback.

This just doesn't happen.

Yet it's happening.

“I know a lot of people said the first two games we didn’t play anybody, stuff like that,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said. “But we just play whoever’s on the schedule, and it’s hard to win every week in the NFL. Definitely encouraging to start out the way we have."

The Eagles are only the second team in NFL history with a new head coach to win its first three games by 15 or more points. The 2007 Steelers, whose head coach Mike Tomlin was across the sideline Sunday afternoon, also did it.

But that team’s quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, was in his fourth season and had already won a Super Bowl.

This team’s quarterback was a third-stringer a month ago.

Unprecedented stuff.

Nobody saw this coming, and if they say they did, they’re lying.

The Eagles improved to 3-0 Sunday afternoon with a 34-3 shellacking of a Steelers team that a lot of people expect to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, a team that hadn’t lost by 31 points in 27 years (see Instant Replay).

"We got that full head of steam," rookie tailback Wendell Smallwood said. "I think we're going to keep rolling. We're not going to sit back and get comfortable at all. We're going to keep it going and keep rolling."

The Eagles go into the bye week one of five 3-0 teams in the NFL, and the only one with a rookie coach.

They’ve outscored their three opponents by 19, 15 and 31 points. They have the hottest rookie quarterback in NFL history and a defense that hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown.

“I’ll bet there’s a lot of new Eagles fans today,” Bradham said. “We have a lot of hardcore fans here, but I’m sure they started coming out of the woodwork all over the country when they saw our score today.”

The Eagles are 3-0 for only the ninth time in their 84-year history. They’re in first place in the NFC East and they’ve played extraordinary football on both sides of the ball (see 10 Observations).

The Browns are the Browns. The Bears are the Bears.

But a win over the Steelers? That’s legit.

“We saw this game as kind of a respect game, an offense of that caliber going against a defense like us?” safety Rodney McLeod said. “It was a matchup to see and we came out victorious. But it doesn’t end here. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

The Steelers hadn’t lost by 31 points since a 41-10 loss to the Bengals in 1989. And they had never lost by 31 points to an NFC team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

Unprecedented stuff.

“We still can be better,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We can grow. We’re not comfortable. That’s what I think of this team.

“Nobody is comfortable or patting themselves on the back. We know we can be better. We will go and watch the film (Monday). I’m sure there were a lot of mistakes, including myself, to correct. Everybody stays focused.”

Considering the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, it’s easy to get carried away right now.

It’s been a seven-year drought since Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook led that 2008 team to the NFC Championship Game.

Finally, some new names to be excited about. Carson Wentz. Rodney McLeod. Wendell Smallwood. 

“This is what I think everybody here fully expected,” center Jason Kelce said. “When you’ve been in the league for a while, you can tell when you have good players, a good team.

“I think, even in the offseason, I think everybody, just looking at the roster we had, I thought we were very underrated in the media’s eye, (and) honestly, it seems like our team always does better when the media doesn’t expect us to do well.

“Obviously, nobody expected Sam (Bradford) to get traded right before the season and Carson to get the start. But he deserves all the praise he’s getting. He’s been the most consistent player through these first three games. What Carson has done, in my opinion, as a rookie, has been incredible.”

Wentz is the first quarterback to go 3-0 the first three weeks of his rookie season without throwing an interception.

On Sunday, he became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for 300 yards in a game, complete 74 percent of his passes and throw two or more TDs and no interceptions.

Like we said … unprecedented stuff. 

Historic stuff.

Simply unbelievable stuff.

But the defense has been just as impressive. Since giving up a touchdown in the second quarter to the Bears, the Eagles have faced 19 consecutive possessions without allowing a touchdown.

They’ve allowed a TD on only one of the last 31 drives they’ve defended.

The last time the defense gave up a second-half touchdown, Pat Shurmur was the head coach. 

“I think we still have a lot of room to grow,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s three games, but I feel like every single week we keep improving, keep fixing our mistakes.”

The Eagles have outscored their three opponents by a combined 65 points, which is the second-largest differential in Eagles history after three games.

The 1980 team outscored its first three opponents by 88 points on the way to Super Bowl XV.

“Everyone is starting to play kind of inspired football,” Wentz said. “Everybody is believing in each other and it’s been three great team wins. The defense is playing phenomenal, the special teams are doing a great job and offensively we’re doing our part.

“I think everyone around here was confident, and we knew we had the ability, but we had to keep chopping. ‘Keep chopping away’ is a motto that we have, and we’ve done a good job of it.”

How far can chopping take them?

“Our goal is going to the Bowl and get that trophy,” Bradham said. “That’s our goal and that’s what we want to do. It’s still early. There’s a lot of football to go. And we know we have to keep fighting to get there.”

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Eagles in awe of Carson Wentz after another stunning performance

Eagles in awe of Carson Wentz after another stunning performance

Carson Wentz clearly had some 60,000 fans cheering for him during Sunday’s 34-3 drubbing of the cross-state Pittsburgh Steelers (see Instant Replay).

He had a few fans on the sideline too. 

During Sunday’s game, when the Eagles’ offense was on the field, defensive teammates couldn’t help but stop to watch the electrifying rookie. 

“I watch him all the time,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said, cracking a smile. “It’s impressive what he’s doing, man. I think everybody is waiting to see him fall off or see a bad decision or see a rookie mistake. But so far, they haven’t come. He’s been the key reason why we’re 3-0. 

“What he’s doing is great. It’s amazing. It’s something that I think he’ll downplay, but there’s no doubt about it, what he’s doing is special. I think it’s a testament to his preparation, his demeanor.”

Against the Steelers, Wentz put forth his best game of his young three-game career. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and had a passer rating of 125.9 (see 10 observations)

Wentz became the first NFL rookie ever to have a game with 300-plus passing yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a completion percentage above 74. He also became the third rookie in Eagles history to throw for 300-plus yards with two touchdowns in a game.

Wentz actually out-performed Pittsburgh starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. 

"I thought he played great,” Roethlisberger said. “He won the game."

What Wentz is doing is special. 

So special even his teammates on the other side of the football are taking time to notice in between preparing for their next series. 

“You find yourself hearing the crowd getting excited,” linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “You’re watching the plays and we’re jumping up and down getting excited with them. You find yourself doing those things. When the offense is doing what they’re doing and then we’re doubling back and doing what we’re doing, it’s just tough to spot.”

“Oh yeah. It feels good,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “It’s great for them to move the chains and Carson does a good job. He’s seasoned. It’s only his third game in the NFL but he’s seems like a vet.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 769 yards. He has five touchdowns and still hasn’t thrown an interception in 102 career passes.  

On Sunday against the Steelers, he continued to wow onlookers. His best feat of the night came on an off-schedule play in the third quarter. With the Eagles still just up by 10 points, Wentz rolled right and found Darren Sproles, who caught the ball and ran the rest of the way for a 73-yard touchdown pass.

“We always say, hey a play’s never dead,” Wentz said. 

It was just the 16th 73-yard-plus touchdown pass in Eagles history. 

Maybe Wentz has always been this confident in himself, but now his teammates are undoubtedly behind him. 

“He continues to blow my mind away,” receiver Josh Huff said. “The poise he has, the way he commands the huddle, all the guys listening to him. He brings a ton of energy every day, especially on game days. … The team’s with him right now and that’s one of the reasons we played so well today. We have a good quarterback … a great quarterback.”

While the Philadelphia will certainly be engulfed in Wentz-mania in the coming weeks, the buzz within the locker room is palpable too. 

“I told [head coach Doug Pederson] being 10 years in, this kid is inspiring me,” tight end Brent Celek said. “He’s adding youth to my game just by the way he’s acting, being in the huddle, taking command, it’s beyond impressive. It’s great. We have to keep it going. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re the greatest team but I’m excited with how he’s playing and he’s elevating everybody else’s play by the way he’s handling it.”

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