Phils still under .500, but don't blame the old guys or the new guys

Phils still under .500, but don't blame the old guys or the new guys

The Philadelphia Phillies were one inning away from the perfect weekend, a three-game sweep of the New York Mets at Citi Field that would have brought the team back to .500 and recovered a little momentum from the team's debilitating four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays in a home-and-home series earlier in the week. But with a 4-1 lead in the ninth and closer Jonathan Papelbon given the day off, substitute Antonio Bastardo was unable to secure the W and a Mets flurry sent the game to extras, where the bad guys won it in 11th. Subsequently, the Phils stay tied for last in the NL East with the Mets at 17-19, with the NL's second-worst run differential at -30.

Nope, it hasn't been a great start to the year for the Fightins, though it's not like we predicted anything all that different. The hitting and starting pitching are both inconsistent, the fielding is absolutely brutal (especially in the outfield), and the relief pitching...well, if Pap needs too many more rest days, we're in pretty big trouble there. It's not a particularly good team, and they've given us not particularly good results.

The reflexive reaction here would be to point the finger at the roster's architect, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. However, though there's certainly fault to be had with Ruben, it's interesting to note a little bit that actually, of all the roster moves he's made over the last year or so--many of which were met with pretty decisive criticism--none of them have really flopped, and actually, most of them have looked pretty good for the team so far.

Marlon Byrd, the team's top hitting pickup in the off-season, was given two years and $16 million (potentially 3/$24, if certain vesting options come through) to be the team's starting right fielder, a commitment which seemed slightly ridiculous for a 36-year-old who was essentially out of baseball two years earlier. But while the contract still has the potential to look silly in a year or two, it's so far, so good with Marlon: He's been one of the team's best offensive producers this season, hitting over .300, slugging over .500 and leading the team with 23 RBIs, while not killing them with his defense in right.

Top pitching acquisition A.J. Burnett, a 37-year-old signed for one year and $15 million (with a team option for the same next season), seemed like a pretty unsafe bet given his age and erratic history of production. But A.J. hasn't been the problem either--even after his roughest start of the season last week against Toronto, he still has the lowest ERA (2.98) and highest WAR (1.0) among Phillies starters. His strikeout to walk rate of under two might be a bad sign of things to come, but for the season's first month-plus, it's hard to say he hasn't made the Phillies a better team.

The team's lower-leverage pickups haven't been huge difference-makers, but they haven't been disasters, either. Wil Nieves and Tony Gwynn Jr. have mostly been acceptable bench players, though Gwynn is starting to get exposed as he has to make too many sub starts for Ben Revere in center. Roberto Hernandez hasn't been a revelation, but as the team's fifth starter, he's acceptable--an ERA of just over four and a 2:1 K/BB ratio that at least gives the team a chance to win when he starts. Jayson Nix...OK, that guy straight-up blows, but whatever, as long as Cody Asche can keep up his improved hitting and Maikel Franko can make his way up from Triple A before too long, we hopefully won't have to see that much of him moving forward.

What's more, even the extensions that RAJ signed last year seem like OK deals thusfar. We gave Chase Utley $15 mil a year, basically until he can't play anymore, but that's more than cool with us when he's hitting .338 with a slugging percentage near .550, easily leading the team in both categories. He's clearly not the guy he used to be in the field, but as long as he's giving us near-MVP-caliber production from the second-base position at the plate, it's hard to find much ground for complaining with Chase. And Carlos Ruiz, in the first year of a deal that should last at least three years and 25 million, has remained one of the game's more productive offensive catchers, posting an OBP of .390 and staying steady behind the plate.

The Phils' struggles this year haven't been due to their work in free agency, or but rather the stunted development of some of the team's more medium-tenured players. A year after a breakout All-Star campaign, Domonic Brown has been absolute murder for the Fightins this season, slugging an anemic .287, which is even lower this season than that of his notoriously light-hitting outfield partner Ben Revere. Brown and Revere have basically been zeroes for the Phils at the plate this season, with a combined eight extra base hits in 259 plate appearances, and in the field, they've been even worse, with Brown's plodding feet and poor route-running combining with Revere's questionable decision-making and historically weak arm to make every fly ball to the left side of the outfield a Choose Your Own Adventure book of horrors.

And as previously alluded to, the bullpen has officially reached tire fire status for the Phils. Outside of Papelbon, who's actually been pretty kickass by just about any statistical measure, there's just nobody that's even the slightest bit reliable. For some perspective, Pap leads the bullpen in ERA+--a stat which measures individual ERA against league average, with 100 being the median--with a superlative 213. 2nd on the list? Newcomer Mario Hollands, with an 83. This team has urgently needed one of their longer-tenured bullpen arms--B.J. Rosenberg, Justin de Fratus, Jake Diekman, Antonio Bastardo, hell, we gave Mike Adams 12 million--to step up, and each has politely but firmly declined, already costing the team a number of games this season, most recently last night.

So the Phils are getting better-than-expected contributions from both their aging long-time vets--we haven't even talked about Jimmy Rollins, who's off to easily his best all-around start in ages--and their (similarly aging) first-year pickups, yet they're still disappointing. And while it seems like you can't blame this on RAJ, since none of his individual decisions have backfired, it does make you continue to wonder why he made so many of those go-for-it, quick-fix-type moves over the last year when it's clear that the core of the team just isn't good enough to compete at an elite level anymore.

Maybe Dom and Ben bounce back, and maybe a couple bullpen arms emerge to help out over the course of the season. But when you ask for that to happen while also hoping that all of the old guys continue to outperform expectation, you realize just how much you're asking for to go right with this team just so they can approach a base line of competence as a ballclub. Baseball isn't basketball, certainly, and you don't build your teams the same way across the sports, but you can only imagine what our dark lord Sam Hinkie is thinking as he watches the Phils desperately (and expensively) scrap their way to .500, rather than just admitting it's over, bottoming out and figuring out what to do next.

No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

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No. 10 Washington dominates No. 7 Stanford in rout

SEATTLE -- Jake Browning threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, Myles Gaskin added 100 yards and two scores, and No. 10 Washington was dominant on both sides, overwhelming No. 7 Stanford 44-6 on Friday night.

After months of hype that Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) was on the verge of a breakout, the Huskies showed they were ready for their return to the national stage.

And they did it emphatically, handing Stanford (3-1, 2-1) its worst loss since a 41-3 setback against Arizona State in 2007.

The Huskies raced to a 23-0 halftime lead, scored early in the second half to go up 30-0 and coasted to their biggest victory over an AP Top 10 team since beating No. 5 Southern California 31-0 in 1990. That game 26 years ago announced Washington as a national contender and the Huskies went on to share the national title a year later with Miami -- taking the coaches' version while Miami topped the AP media poll.

Browning was the leader of an efficient offense that scored on six of its eight drives. He threw touchdowns of 3 yards to Dante Pettis, 19 yards to John Ross and capped the night with a 3-yarder to Aaron Fuller with 5:30 remaining. Browning was 15 of 21 and did not commit a turnover.

Equally important was Washington's ability to establish a running game. The Huskies rushed for 214 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Stanford star Christian McCaffrey saw his Heisman Trophy aspirations hit a major speed bump. McCaffrey was held to 49 yards rushing on 12 carries, five catches for 30 yards and continued his streak of never scoring an offensive touchdown in a road game.

It was McCaffrey's fewest yards rushing since 2014 at California when he had 19 yards on three carries.

Stanford's only TD came late in the third quarter on a 19-yard pass from Ryan Burns to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Burns was 15 of 22 for 151 yards, but Washington controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides. Stanford quarterbacks were sacked eight times, six in the first half. Stanford had allowed only four total sacks in the first three games combined.

Stanford was playing short-handed without starting cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, starting wide receiver Francis Owusu and starting fullback Daniel Marx. Starting right tackle Casey Tucker limped off with an apparent leg injury late in the fourth quarter.

Takeaways
Stanford: The Cardinal were unexpectedly sloppy. Stanford committed 11 penalties after entering the week as the least penalized team in the Pac-12. There were communication issues in part due to the roaring Washington crowd, but also a lack of sharpness not normally seen from David Shaw's team.

Washington: The defense was up to the task of keeping McCaffrey under control and forcing Burns to beat them through the air. McCaffrey had 34 yards on 10 carries in the first half and forced the Cardinal into numerous long third-down situations. That allowed Washington to bring extra pass rushers to get to Burns.

Up Next
Stanford: The Cardinal head home after two straight weeks on the road to host Washington State.

Washington: The Huskies travel to Oregon looking to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.

Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

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Best of MLB: Darvish stars as Rangers beat Rays 3-1 and clinch home field

ARLINGLTON, Texas -- Yu Darvish looked playoff-ready with a season-high 12 strikeouts in six innings as the Texas Rangers beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 on Friday night and clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

The Rangers can be tied by only the Cleveland Indians and they own the tie-breaker by winning the teams' season series. The AL owns home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to its win in the All-Star Game.

Darvish (7-5) allowed one run, three hits and one walk. His 28th career game of double-digit strikeouts is the second-most in a pitcher's first 100 major league starts, topped only by Dwight Gooden (31). Darvish will likely start Game 2 of the Division Series following Cole Hamels.

Shin-Soo Choo returned to Texas' lineup after missing 39 games with a fractured left forearm. Choo pulled a single to right in his first plate appearance since Aug. 15 and went 1 for 4.

Matt Andriese (8-8) gave up three runs and seven hits, including solo home runs to Carlos Beltran and Rougned Odor (see full story). 

Cabrera hits 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves
ATLANTA -- Miguel Cabrera hit two home runs, Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton also connected and the Detroit Tigers moved up in the playoff race, beating the Atlanta Braves 6-2 Friday night.

The Tigers won their third straight and pulled within a half-game of Toronto for the second AL wild-card spot. The Blue Jays lost at Boston 5-3.

The regular season is scheduled to end Sunday, but the Tigers might need to play beyond that. They were rained out against Cleveland this week and would have to make up that game if it impacts their playoff chances.

Daniel Norris (4-2) gave up one run, five hits, two walks and struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings.

The Braves, playing their final series at Turner Field before moving north to the suburbs next year, had won 10 of 11. Matt Wisler (7-13) was chased in the fifth when James McCann's RBI single made it 5-0 (see full story).

Trumbo hits 47th, Schoop 5 RBIs as Orioles top Yankees 8-1
NEW YORK -- Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 47th home run, Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones also went deep in a six-run fifth inning and the Baltimore Orioles beat the New York Yankees 8-1 in steady rain Friday night to maintain their AL wild-card lead.

Baltimore began the night tied with Toronto for the AL's two wild cards at 87-72, with Detroit 1 1/2 games back and Seattle trailing the Tigers by a half-game.

Trumbo and Jones homered off Michael Pineda (6-12), who started with 3 2/3 hitless innings and suddenly became ineffective.

Schoop tied his career high with five RBIs, hitting a go-ahead, two-run double in the fourth and adding a three-run homer in the fifth against James Pazos -- Baltimore's big league-high 250th home run this season.

Yovani Gallardo (6-8) won for just the second time in nine starts since Aug. 5, allowing two hits, three walks and Mark Teixeira's sacrifice fly in six innings (see full story). 

Ortiz delivers another HR, Red Sox beat Blue Jays 5-3
BOSTON -- Opening his final weekend with yet another game-winning homer, David Ortiz lined a two-run shot into the right-field stands to break a seventh-inning tie and help the Boston Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Friday night.

The AL East champion Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak and stayed one game ahead of Cleveland in the race for home-field advantage for the playoffs.

The Blue Jays fell one game behind Baltimore in the wild-card race and are now within range of Detroit and Seattle in the fight for the AL's final postseason berth (see full story).