Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

Previewing the Phillies-Cubs Series with ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg

With the lowly Cubs coming to town this evening to take on our first place Phillies, we reached out to a Chicago writer who we read frequently cracking jokes at the Cubs expense on Twitter. Jon Greenberg is a columnist for and is the author of such pieces as "The wreck at Wrigley is tough to watch." We've heard things were bad, but we thought we'd ask him just how bad. I've also had beers with Jon in the past at Wrigley, so I asked him to feel free to have some fun at the Cubs expense. Our conversation below.

Enrico: We tend to get tunnel vision a bit here in Philadelphia and focus only on our Phillies, but it's hard not to notice when a guy on the Cubs blasts off about how "We stinks." As a guy who covers the Cubs closely, are things as really as bad in Wrigleyville as Carlos Zambrano seems to think?

Jon Greenberg: Yes, yes, yes. Personally, I think "We Stinks" should become the team's rallying cry, and if there isn't a bootleg T-shirt with that slogan on it by Monday night's game, I'm going to blame the economy or something.

A large section of Cubs fans are really disappointed in the direction of the franchise, which has really nosedived since the 2008 playoff exit. The fans and the franchise just hasn't recovered from that sweep by Los Angeles. I mean, Jim Hendry gave Milton Bradley a multi-year deal months after that! It should have been revoked by reason of insanity.

But a lot of Cubs fans like to be mired in the misery of this team. They won't admit it, but they do. So maybe they're secretly delighted by the admission the team stinks.

I didn't really answer the question, but yeah the team sucks. There are too many Triple-A call-ups on the roster right now, none of whom with any whiff of power. The defense is atrocious and the pitching staff is missing an experienced Major League coach and lacks any semblance of depth.

Also, attendance is down.

Enrico: But at least they're not as bad as the Astros!?!

Things are quite different in Philadelphia. We're riding the most success we've seen out of the Phillies franchise in most of our lifetimes (if not ever?), but a certain segment of fans have turned into over-reactionaries. The Phils are in first place, but do certainly have plenty of weaknesses. The offense has lost a lot of its pop, perhaps due to age, and struggles to put up big runs on a consistent basis.

They've also been playing down to their opponents lately. Struggling against lesser quality teams like Washington and Pittsburgh. They've seem to lack that killer instinct to be able to put teams away when they should.

Which leads me to believe a series with the Cubs won't be as easy as the two teams records may indicate. Any chance the younger Cubs players step up against a championship contender? Although you can't like having to run up against Halladay, Lee, and Oswalt in three of the four games here.

Jon Greenberg: You're right Enrico Pallazo, the Cubs are better than the Astros. A whopping game-and-a-half after the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Reds on Wednesday afternoon, breaking an eight-game losing streak.

Can the Cubs win a game off Philly? Sure. It's baseball, right? (Fill in your favorite baseball cliche here.) Maybe Zambrano and Garza throw back-to-back no-hitters. Sure. Maybe Doug Davis, ah forget it.

But these Cubs hitters against Halladay, Lee and Oswalt? It's going to get ugly. Have you even heard of half the team right now? Marlon Byrd and Soriano are on the DL, remember. It's amazing how good of a staff the Phillies have, and fans should revel in it.

Phillies fans have it good, but they have every right to be nervous. Baseball's meat grinder of a season is guaranteed to cause perpetual worry. In 2008, Cubs fans rode the entire season on a wave of good vibes and look how that ended up.

Enrico: Not going to lie, it's quite enjoyable to listen to you talk about how awful our competition is.

We'll end with this: how about one or two of the younger Cubs players we'll see over the next few days that have shown some real potential?We saw the Dodgers this week playing former Phillies closer Tom Gordon's kid at shortstop for the first time ever. Kid had ridiculous speed. Real fun to watch.

Anyone young and exciting to look out for on the Cubs?

Jon Greenberg: Well, even you East Coast elites have probably heard of Starlin Castro, right? He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated the other week. Even though he's still erratic on defense, he's an exciting player with All-Star potential. Not Pirates' All-Star potential (Jack Wilson, Carlos Garcia), but Jimmy Rollins' type ish.

Pint-sized CF Tony Campana (pictured right) would be a fan favorite in Philly. He's small, white, presumably Italian, wears his hat cocked to the side and flies around like Aaron Rowand's kid brother. He's kind of like Sam Fuld, whom the Cubs traded in the Matt Garza deal.

Second baseman Darwin Barney is having a very good first full season in the majors. He's got the most multi-hit games of any rookie (24, I think) and isn't an idiot, which is refreshing. He told me playing baseball is "like blackjack. You love it and you hate it."

That's fitting for this series. The Cubs hate baseball right now while the Phillies love it.

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

The kid finally has his first NHL goal.

Travis Konecny scored at 4:30 of the third period (see video) during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Tuesday night (see story).  

His was the first of three power-play goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and get the Flyers into overtime.

First markers are always that much more special when they make a difference in a comeback victory, such as this one with the Flyers in a brutal stretch of six games in nine days.

“I am just excited that it happened,” Konecny said. “But the thing for me that was more exciting was coming back after that 3-0 [deficit] and an overall exciting night for us.”

The three power-play goals were a season high for the Flyers.

“We got going those two power plays ... our power plays set a tone,” Konecny said. “When that gets going, it makes it hard for the other team to stop us.

“It’s awesome because we know what they can do [on the top power-play unit]. They have been sticking with it and fighting the puck, whatever it’s been the past couple of games, but you know what they are capable of — you can see it the past couple of years. 

“You knew it was coming and tonight is the perfect night to get it going and I am sure that they are going to keep rolling with it.”

Schultz sits
The decision to sit 15-year veteran blueliner Nick Schultz to get Radko Gudas back into the lineup wasn’t easy but it made sense on several levels. Gudas had been suspended for six games.

First, Schultz doesn’t play on the power play, whereas Andrew MacDonald carries heavy minutes with the power play and penalty kill.

Brandon Manning? Not happening. He’s been the Flyers' best defenseman this season. Mark Streit? Doesn’t work because he quarterbacks the second-unit PP and is essentially teaching that duty to rookie Ivan Provorov.

“It’s real tough,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s part of the business and [Schultz has] done an excellent job. He’s always very well-prepared.

“We talked about what’s best for our team and we feel like Gudy going in, especially on a back-to-back, gives us fresh legs and a fresh body coming back into the lineup.”

Hakstol recently has had to switch around his defensive pairs to get more defensive coverage and consistency on the ice. For instance, moving Provorov from Streit to Manning.

He discounted Schultz’s age (34) as a true factor in the decision.

“I think the more flexibility you have, the better, whether it be for rest or for the injury situations,” Hakstol said. “First and foremost, I think we’re still looking for the true consistency that we need through our entire team, but certainly your D pairs are a big part of that. 

“Before we start getting to a comfort level of guys playing with different people, first we have to find true consistency. We’ve been pretty good, but we’ve had stretches where the consistency needs to improve, as well.”

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?

Turnovers: The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by a last-placed 10.2 points per game. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, they were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense. Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?

Embiid: The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown. The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric. The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. They're going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.