Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Well we had one of those dreaded Philly
sports days yesterday. All three teams in action lost and lost ugly. On
the "Scary to No Big Deal" spectrum, the Flyers take up the scary mantle
because they continue to play down to inferior opponents, making us wonder if they've lost what made them superior, and of course, the playoffs begin next week. The Sixers fall somewhere in the middle in that they got smoked by the Celtics,
but it didn't sting quite as badly because even though we're amped up
for them to be in the playoffs, the expectations aren't quite as high
for them as the Flyers. Plus, the Celtics are undeniably good. The scary
element really is just in that they could be the team that the Sixers
face in round one. Then there's the Phillies, who were slammed back to
earth with a 7-1 loss to the Mets. The opening series sweep is
officially over, and the first loss of the season came to the hated
rival. Otherwise, no big deal, but it was annoying, especially given
that the Flyers were crapping the bed up in Ottawa something fierce, and
the Sixers had the look of the one-and-done many people already thought
they were. 

So what do you have for us, Wednesday? 

At least for the Phillies, there's the hope of seeing some good
baseball. If last night's loss, ugly as it was, shook you at all, you
can get out. I try not to be one of these Fannier Than Thou types, but
seriously, leave. This team is so good that I'm genuinely excited to see
its fifth starter pitch today. It's Phillies-Mets. Screw last night.
Last night is dead. If you got a schedule magnet, take a quick look and
see how dead last night is. The Phils lost on an awful weather night,
which is no excuse considering that it didn't seem to bother the Mets,
but for some reason it makes it easier to discount for me. 

With the staggered start times, I got to see Cole pitch in the first
inning, get into a little bad luck, then pitch his ass off to get out of
it. It felt great to see him work with two runners in scoring position
and David Wright at the plate. It felt as good as seeing the Flyers
score an early goal on the power play. Unfortunately, both teams crapped
out shortly thereafter. The Phillies get a shot to redeem immediately
themselves, with Joe Blanton (he of the World Series W and HR Blantons)
facing Mike Pelfrey tonight. And for me, that inning alone was enough of
a reminder that there's nothing to worry about with Cole, who just had a
rough night. We also saw a few more glimmers from the offense,
especially Jimmy Rollins' continued work from the three hole. How about
that bunt single and stolen base? That was f*cking awesome. 

Tonight's opposing starter got blasted in his debut, including giving up a grand slam on his way to an opening day loss. (Side
note for people who like to say that fourth starters play other teams'
fourth starters, etc.: We're in the second series of the season, and
already, we're seeing a fifth starter play the opening day guy for the
other team. It's fantastic that the Phils have four aces and a pretty
good fifth, but with them and throughout baseball, the matchups are
going to vary based on days off, injuries, and skipped starts.)
 

But the ass-whooping at the hands of the Mets last night could be a
blessing in disguise (if you're still following along with my
Flyers-shame-and-coffee-induced optimism). If you listened to what Charlie Manuel had to say last night after the loss,
he wasn't down in the face like Peter Laviolette was, and with good
reason for both. Charlie knows he has a great hand, but he also knows
that some competition from the Mets now and throughout the season could
be a good thing. The Flyers got complacent somewhere around the All-Star
Game, and look where they are at the moment. The same could happen to
the Phillies if they don't have competition in the standings. Even
before the season, it was looking like the NL East had improved
throughout its ranks. Some competition could be exactly what the Phils
need to keep their minds off the magazine covers and on the field. 

This group hasn't really had a problem with staying grounded, but
we're now entering a third straight season of very lofty expectations,
amplified by the re-addition of Cliff Lee. Even without Chase Utley for a
while, the expectations are no less than a World Series win. 

While I'm no bandwagon Flyers fan, it does help to ease the pain of
one team's loss to know I can just put on another's game the next night
and know they have a damn good shot at winning, even if it's fifth
starter night. The Union also play a US Open Cup game against the DC United
before a huge early season matchup with the Red Bulls at PPL Park on
Sunday. And yes, I'm still really looking forward to the NHL playoffs
and fully expecting this team to show up in the first round.

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014. 

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

The end is near: Pete Mackanin to cut back Ryan Howard's playing time

Pete Mackanin has picked his spots with the pitchers he has let Ryan Howard face in recent months and that helped Howard carry post-All Star break numbers like a .306 batting average and .653 slugging percentage into Tuesday’s night game against the Washington Nationals and their right-handed ace, Max Scherzer.

Scherzer is the type of power arm that Mackanin often protects Howard from.

But despite awful career numbers — 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts — against Scherzer, Howard was in the starting lineup at first base over Tommy Joseph on Tuesday night.

Listening to Mackanin explain his reasoning, one came away with the impression that Howard’s playing time is about to nosedive as he and the Phillies begin their last month together.

“Just to get him in there,” Mackanin said when asked why he was starting Howard against a pitcher who’d dominated him in the past. “I’m going to start using Joseph more. I’ll play [Howard] today and [Joseph] tomorrow and then I’ll lean on Joseph a little bit more the rest of the way.”

Why?

“To see him more,” Mackanin said. “I’m not saying I’m going to strictly play Joseph, but I have to get him as many at-bats as possible through the end of the season.”

Makes sense. The Phillies will part ways with the 36-year-old Howard after the season. Joseph, 25, has not won the first base job long term, but he has a chance to, especially if he can improve his on-base skills. His power numbers — 17 homers and a .500 slugging percentage in 250 at-bats — are excellent.

Mackanin was asked whether the decision to pull back on Howard’s playing time was his or whether it came down from above.

“It’s my own,” he said. “I think it makes sense to see Joseph as much as possible. Howie was swinging the bat extremely well. I’m just going to see if he can put something together against Scherzer. A lot of people don’t have good numbers against Scherzer anyway. Lefties at least hit him better.”

Mackanin said he wants to make sure Joseph gets plenty of at-bats against right-handed pitching down the stretch.

“I don’t want to happen to him what happened to [Darin] Ruf, where we didn’t have opportunities to get him at-bats,” Mackanin said.

While Mackanin wants to look at Joseph more, he has no intention to look at 23-year-old Rule 5 outfielder Tyler Goeddel more as the season winds down. Reserve Jimmy Paredes continued to get outfield reps with the start in left field on Tuesday night.

“I’ve seen enough of Goeddel to know — we’ve kept him this long and we’re going to keep him and we’ll see where we go next year with him,” Mackanin said. “I don’t see a need to play him, especially after he hasn’t played so much. What’s the point?

“Paredes, he’s an extra player. That’s why we got him. I’m trying to put some offense into the lineup and he’s been swinging the bat pretty well. Peter Bourjos is coming off his wrist injury; I’m just trying to get Paredes as many at-bats as possible to see if he can help us win games. But he’s not an everyday player right now here for us.”

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

Tim Tebow shows power in baseball tryout but clearly still needs work

LOS ANGELES -- Tim Tebow crushed a batting-practice fastball with a confident left-handed swing, sending it into the trees next to the scoreboard beyond right field.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback only paused an instant to appreciate his shot, and then he went right back to work on the unlikely next chapter in his unique athletic story.

Tebow took his first big swings at a baseball career Tuesday, showing off a powerful bat and other developing skills during a workout in front of dozens of major league scouts and reporters.

The 29-year-old aspiring outfielder went through drills at the University of Southern California's Dedeaux Field for over an hour, confidently chasing a dream deferred for 12 years. Declaring his football career essentially over, Tebow insists he is serious about becoming more than a baseball curiosity.

"The goal would be to have a career in the big leagues," Tebow said. "I just want to be someone to pursue what I believe in, what I'm passionate about. A lot of people will say, `But what if you fail? What if you don't make it?' Guess what? I don't have to live with regret. I did everything I could. I pushed it. I would rather be someone that could live with peace and no regret than what-if, or being scared."

Tebow's heavily muscled, 255-pound physique and 6.70-ish time in the 60-yard dash were impressive to the scouts. He also showed undeniable hitting ability with a series of line drives and long homers during batting practice.

But Tebow also showed he still needs baseball seasoning when he faced live pitching from former big-leaguers David Aardsma and Chad Smith, who repeatedly fooled him with off-speed pitches. Tebow could only grin in frustration after he fanned on a series of changeups and breaking balls.

"There is 100 percent nerves, no question about it," Tebow said. "When you're at the combine or a pro day, you have your body of work for four years, everything that you did, so it's not just that one day. Here, you might have seen me when I was 17, but you haven't seen me since. A lot goes into it, so you'd better show something. A lot of nerves, a lot of pressure, for sure."

Tebow hasn't played baseball regularly since his junior year at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida. He left early to enroll at Florida, beginning a fabled college football career that led to the 2007 Heisman and two national titles for the Gators.

But 12 years ago, Tebow was a .494-hitting, all-county outfielder who loved hitting a baseball every bit as much as he loved leading a huddle.

"The second-hardest decision I ever made was giving up baseball to go to the University of Florida and play football," said Tebow, whose choice of Florida over Alabama was the toughest. "There wasn't a season that went by that it wasn't something that I thought about. When I felt like I had this opportunity, I wanted to take it and pursue it with everything I had."

A few big-league teams talked privately with Tebow after the workout, and he seems unlikely to have trouble finding an organization willing to give a chance to a celebrity with clear baseball ability, however rudimentary.

Tebow realizes he is still far from the big leagues, but he hopes to play in the instructional league in Arizona next month before heading into winter league ball, perhaps even in Latin America.

Tebow decided to pursue his baseball aspirations in earnest three months ago. He began training at a baseball school in Arizona run by Chad Moeller. The former big-league catcher saw daily improvements in Tebow, from his bat speed to his mental game.

"If I'm a team, I'm signing him," Moeller said. "I'm taking him to instructional ball. I'd get him to the Arizona Fall League and get him matched up against some good arms and see what happens. I don't think this is one you're going to take your time on, because he's not a young kid. So you're going to push him. For him and for the teams, I thought if he goes out and performs the way he could and is capable of, you could see it in a year, a year and a half, definitely in the big leagues."

Tebow hasn't played in the NFL since 2012, becoming a broadcaster and resisting attempts to move him to another football position as his quarterback career evaporated. Even while he got an extended look last year from the Philadelphia Eagles, who cut him after the preseason, Tebow said his mind already had wandered back to baseball.

"It's not about publicity," Tebow said. "It's definitely not about money. It's a pay cut to do this. Just pursue what you love, right? Regardless of what else happens. Regardless of if you fail, or if you fall on your face. If that's the worst thing that can happen, that's OK. When did that become such a bad thing? When did pursuing what you love become a bad thing, regardless of the result? For me, yeah, I'll make all the sacrifices to be the best I can."