Valdez and Polanco Provide the Runs, Doc Shuts Mets Down as Phils Improve to 5-1

Valdez and Polanco Provide the Runs, Doc Shuts Mets Down as Phils Improve to 5-1

When Everybody Hits. And Doc pitches. The Phillies win.

It's a tried and true recipie, and that's what happened Thursday
afternoon at Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies put on a fantastic
display of what this team is capable of doing to teams like the New York
Mets. Every single Phillies starter, including Roy Halladay, notched at
least one hit in the Phils 11-0 victory over the Mets, but it was
Wilson Valdez and Placido Polanco who did the most damage. Polly was 2-5
on the day with 4 RBIs while Valdez had his first career 4-hit game,
adding 3 RBIs and crossing the plate 3 times on his own.

"Polanco and Valdez were the ones who did the big hitting today,"
Charlie Manuel said. "Their hitting today definitely put us in a
position, not only to set the game up, but they also knocked in some big
runs."

You expect it from Polanco, but Valdez's hot start has been one of
the more unexpected story lines of the season, as is the manufacturing.

This
Phillies team isn't relying on the long ball, although Raul Ibanez did
ring the bell once on Thursday. The Fightins almost have that Doug
Collins' Sixers-vibe going, where any guy can step up and be the impact
player on any given night.

"I think we're doing a nice job of stringing together good at bats
and getting a lot of people on base, and then getting big hits," Raul
Ibanez said. "Not trying to create something that's not there. If they
throw you a base hit, you can get a base hit. Don't try to hit a homer
on a pitch that's a base hit. So trying not to do too much."

"We just kinda took what [Niese] was giving us," Charlie Manuel said
of the Phils success against the Mets' lefty. "We weren't trying to do a
whole lot against him. We were just trying to hit the ball hard it
looked like. It paid of for us."

Just play baseball, as Manuel loves to say.

But not every Phillie is satisfied with simply earning the 'W.' Roy
Halladay wants to improve his own performance every time he gets the
ball.

"I try and avoid evaluating myself based on results," Halladay said.
"If I can do it more on how I executed pitches, then I think I'm better
off. I can learn more. As soon as you start evaluating your start on
earned runs, or wins and losses, that makes it tough."

So does Doc feel as sharp and honed in as he's capable of being?

"There were times where I felt like I was battling myself a little
bit, especially from the windup," Roy said of his outing against the
Mets. "Those are things I still want to work on. I felt better. I'm
happy where I'm at, but I would like to pitch deeper. I would like to do
it with less pitches."

The idea that Doc isn't as efficient as he wants to be should be
scary for opposing teams. He only threw 21 first-pitch strikes on
Thursday against the Mets.

As for the Phillies offense that was supposedly a question mark coming into this season? How's 21 runs in the last two games?

"It was never a question mark in here," Ryan Howard, who is batting
.480 to start the season, said of the Phillies clubhouse. "In here, I
think everybody had the utmost confidence, staying within yourself,
doing what you do. There were a lot of outside people saying 'This
offense this, this offense that.' They can keep talking, but we're just
going out there and playing our game."

And winning five of six to start the season.

So where do the Phils go from here, besides Atlanta obviously.

"Even-keeled. Don't get too high, don't get too low. Just keep
playing. I just leave my guys alone," Charlie said. "Let 'em go out
there and see what they can do when they're playing good. Let's see what
we can do."

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (illness) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”