Six years after meeting in World Series, Phils and Rays reunited at other end of baseball spectrum

Six years after meeting in World Series, Phils and Rays reunited at other end of baseball spectrum

It shouldn't much surprise you at this point to hear that the Philadelphia Phillies are the proud owners of the worst record in the National League. Losers of eight of their last nine games, already shut out six times at home this season, with their best pitcher on indefinite injury leave and the rest of the rotation in tatters, this is not anybody's idea of a good baseball team, or even an average one. You might not have thought going into the season that over a week into June, the Phillies would have a worse record than the Cubs or Marlins--I certainly wasn't that pessimistic--but it doesn't feel all that wrong either. This is who the Phillies are at this point.

What might surprise you a little bit, if you're not terribly invested in the happenings of the Junior Circuit, is that the Phils do not have the worst overall record in the majors. At 24-40--2.5 games worse than our Fightins--that distinction belongs to the Tampa Bay Rays.

In 2008, when the Phillies and Rays met in the World Series, and the couple years afterwards, it seemed like the Rays were set up in a way the Phillies were not to contend almost in perpetuity. Unlike the Phillies, who quickly grew a taste for cashing in their younger prospects for veteran lineup-fillers of immediate use--occasionally to our own detriment, as Kulp expertly detailed earlier today--the small-market Rays recognized the value of both homegrown talent and bargain-bin free agency shopping. They drafted well and developed their own players with seemingly endless patience, signed them to long deals early in their careers if possible to avoid potentially bigger payouts down the line--rather than, say, waiting until they hit their primes and then signing them to nine-figure extensions before they even got to test the market--and either let them walk or traded them for further prospects once they became too expensive, beginning the cycle all over again.

The result was a team that always seemed to be able to answer its own questions without much outside help. Rather than acquire Cliff Lee or Hunter Pence for a big playoff push, they could just call up Matt Moore or Desmond Jennings and get a similar jolt, without potentially compromising their future plans or binding themselves to any big-money commitments. It was a strategy birthed out of necessity--the Rays didn't have the money to spend like the Phillies did, even if they wanted to--but one that seemed far more sustainable for success than the Phils' unapologetic spending.

And up until this year, it has been. The Rays have yet to make it back to the World Series, but in the five full seasons since '08, they've made the playoffs three times--no small feat in the ultra-competitive AL East--and have yet to finish below .500. From the '08 roster, only four players remain (and one, reliever Grant Balfour, spent several years in Oakland in between), but with one of the game's top GMs in Andrew Friedman and one of the most respected, creative coaches in Joe Maddon, the actual lineup fielded in Tampa from a year-to-year barely seems to matter. The Rays never have a particularly formidable lineup on paper, but they get on base, they defend well, they find good bullpen arms for cheap and they always have another young flamethrower or two to call up to keep their starting rotation formidable.

Again, up until this year. This finally looks to be the year that a gear or two have clamped up in the normally smooth-running Rays machine. Slugging has rarely been a particular organizational strength in Tampa, but this year it's been so bad that their top power-hitting regulars have been Sean Rodriguez (a utility infielder and career .368 slugger) and David DeJesus (93 homers in 5512 career plate appearances). The power pitching, normally a given with the Rays, has been short-circuited by injuries to starters Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, a rough start by longtime staff ace David Price, and the stalled development of prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Even the fielding has been borderline-disastrous.

The potential for bounceback is there for Tampa, but at 16 games under .500 and 14 games out of first place, contending this year is looking more and more unrealistic a goal. In the meantime, the potential looms for a trade of the Cy Young-winner Price before he hits free agency after the 2015 season and becomes far too expensive for them to keep, the sort of move necessary for the Rays' small-market operation but one that would certainly seem to signal a throwing in the towel on this possibly already-lost season.

It's fascinating to me that the Rays and Phillies have, for the time being at least, ended up in the same place, despite taking such divergent paths to get there. The Rays exercised precaution and frugality and taking the long view, always making sure they were prepared for tomorrow and always leaving themselves outs. The Phillies went big on a number of short-term bets, leaving them with relatively few chips to work with, but not humbling them enough to get them to stop throwing good money after bad. Yet six years after they were both at the league's apex, here they both are in the cellar. To quote Harold Ramis via John Cusack, "You do one thing, you do another... I mean, so what? What's the difference? Same result."

Is there anything to actually be learned from this? Probably not. The Rays have hit on a historic confluence of player regression and bad luck, but it's unlikely to last forever. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers will probably start hitting again (if they can stay healthy, anyway), Moore and Hellickson will return eventually and Price will start to look more like the perennial Cy Young contender he's been for the past decade. The errors by their normally surehanded defenders will probably come down. This could all just be an example of the random cruelty of baseball, where a team can start the season as the consensus favorite in their division and end up at the bottom of the standings, with their season as good as done just over two months in.

Then again, maybe it's just part of another lesson: Nothing lasts forever in sports. While it would be silly to let a couple months of bad baseball have you write off the Rays entirely, it's also possible that some of their prospects just haven't panned out as they planned, and in the meantime, Tampa no longer has one of the league's most vaunted farm systems--in fact, at 26th, they ranked one below even Philly in Baseball-Prospectus' preseason estimation. You do what you can stay as competitive as possible as long as possible--the Phils had the way they thought made sense for them, and the Rays had theirs--but eventually, hard times fall on just about everyone.

Of course, you'd still trade the Phils' five-year outlook for that of the Rays in a heartbeat--they have the better recent history, they're still mostly young at their core, they still have guys making decisions with a proven track record of being among the better minds in the business. And if there's one thing that really separates the two teams--beyond the Phils' embarrassingly bigger budget, anyway--it's that while 2008 was obviously a very long time ago for both teams, the Rays are the one that has long seemed cognizant of that fact, and willing to move on from it. The sooner the Phils can get there as well, the less dire their future will seem.

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

Sixers' game vs. Kings rescheduled for Jan. 30

The NBA has determined a new date for the Sixers home game against the Kings, which was postponed on Nov. 30 because of unsafe playing conditions on the court.

The game has been rescheduled for Monday, Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. This will create back-to-backs for both teams.

The Sixers are playing in Chicago on Jan. 29. They will play consecutive games against the Bulls and Kings, then have a road back-to-back against the Mavericks and Spurs on Feb. 1 and 2.

The Kings will be on what is now an eight-game road trip. They will play a back-to-back against the Rockets the next night in Houston.

Former Flyers coach Bill Dineen dies at 84

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The Associated Press

Former Flyers coach Bill Dineen dies at 84

Bill Dineen, who had the distinction of being Eric Lindros’ first NHL coach, died early Saturday morning at his home in Lake George, New York. He was 84.
 
“Such a wonderful person, who got along with everybody,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said. “I never played for him, but worked with him in scouting. Just a great guy.” 
 
Dineen succeeded Holmgren as head coach during the 1991-92 season.
 
“When I got fired, a lot of our guys were squeezing their sticks,” Holmgren said. “They were tight. It shouldn’t be hard to play the game. When things got tough, they were a little under stress, Billy coming in, he loosened things up.”
 
Dineen coached parts of two seasons here from 1991-92 through the 1992-93 season, which was Lindros’ first year as a Flyer.
 
“Bill treated everyone with the utmost respect,” Holmgren said. “He was the perfect guy for Eric coming in here. That respect goes both ways. He was almost a grandfatherly figure for Eric at the time.”

Dineen served as a scout with the organization from 1990-91 until succeeding Holmgren as coach. He then returned to a scouting role in 1993-94 and remained with the Flyers as a scout through 1996-97.
 
Mark Howe, one of the greatest Flyers defensemen of all-time, played for Dineen as an 18-year-old rookie in the WHA with the Houston Aeros (1973-74), and also had him during his final year as a Flyer in 1991-92.
 
“He was one of the best people I ever met in the game of hockey,” Howe said. “He was a real players coach. Of all the guys I ever played for. Maybe a little Paul Holmgren, too. 
 
“If you lost the game, he was one of the very few people if you went for a bite to eat or a beer after the game you lost, you actually felt poorly for letting the coach down.”
 
Howe said Dineen’s teams weren’t all about skill.
 
“He picked people that were about ‘the team,'” Howe said. “He made me earn my spot that first year in Houston.”
 
Dineen posted a 60-60-20 record with the Flyers. His son, Kevin, played on both of those teams before assuming the captaincy from Rick Tocchet in 1993-94. 
 
A gentleman behind the bench, Bill Dineen was much the same person as a player. A former right wing who spent the majority of his six-year playing career with the Detroit Red Wings, he had just 122 penalty minutes in 322 games, scoring 51 goals and 95 points.
 
“I knew Billy for a long time," Flyers senior vice president Bob Clarke said. "He was a player and coach at the minor league level and the NHL level, but I think more importantly he was a really, really good hockey person and really good person.” 

Dineen won two WHA titles coaching the Aeros and two Stanley Cups as a player with the Red Wings. A member of the AHL Hall of Fame, Dineen also coached the Adirondack Red Wings from 1983 through 1988-89.
 
Three of his five sons — Gordon, Peter and Kevin — played in the NHL. Sons Shawn and Jerry had their roots in the AHL. 
 
“His boys are scattered all over the map,” Holmgren said. “Just a tremendous hockey family.”
 
Dineen is part of Flyer folklore trivia. He, along with Keith Allen and Vic Stasiuk, were all Red Wings teammates during 1953-53. They also shared something else in common: all three later  became Flyers head coaches.