Volstad Act: Phils Hang on, Start Weekend Above .500

Volstad Act: Phils Hang on, Start Weekend Above .500

A little good news to start your Friday… The Phillies are over .500. We're not used to celebrating merely having a winning ball club in recent years. Or ever really. But there's certainly relief in looking at the standings this morning and seeing the Phillies with more wins than losses for the first time since opening day. After sweeping the Cubs, that's just where the Fightins are as Boston comes to Philly for the weekend. 
Good things usually happen for the Phils when Chris Volstad is on the mound. They're hardly alone in that regard, as Volstad hadn't won any of his previous 18 starts heading into Thursday night's showdown with a certain Mr. Halladay. And it isn't just the luck of the sport's sometimes-unfair system for doling out W's and L's to pitchers. During a span over eight games to start this season, his new club the Cubs haven't won any of his starts; in his last ten starts of 2011, his old Marlins won just twice. 
Add to that inglorious streak the fact that the Phillies essentially owned Volstad during his time with the Marlins, plus the fact that Carlos Ruiz was catching Roy Halladay in this one, and most signs were pointing to that glorious game-above-even heartland. 
Notes on the Phils' hang-on-for-dear-life 8-7 win below. 
Doc went 8 strong, allowing 7 hits and no walks, striking out 4. His 3 runs allowed came on a first-inning sac fly after a leadoff double, then a pair of solo homers in the seventh and eighth innings. After running a long count and grooving a pitch to Welington Castillo, then watching it clear the left field wall, Doc beaned the mound with the rosin bag in frustration. Gotta love that emotion despite pitching an efficient game and getting great run support. 
Halladay's batterymate once again was a key in providing the offense, continuing his early season tear with four 4 hits in 5 plate appearances and 3 RBI on the night. Chooch's average has climbed to .363, with an OBP now over .400. Elias Sports informs us that Ruiz is now 15 for 30(!) with 12 RBI in Halladay's starts this season. Get that man a Timex.
Jimmy Rollins got aboard 3 times, with a hit and a pair of walks, scoring 3 runs. 
Hunter Pence struck out with two on in the first after Volstad allowed a hit and a walk, but made much of more of a bases loaded opportunity in the second, singling to plate a pair of runs. 
Not content to leave it all on the mound, Halladay saved some for the plate, where he had a pair of hits and scored two runs as well. 
Juan Pierre continued an impressive run of his own, getting on twice out of the 2-hole and snaring a dangerous fly ball dropping just inside fair territory in the 7th. That catch would be a potentially huge difference-maker, as things started to go south for Phils pitching in that inning. Starlin Castro had just homered over Pierre's head in the previous at bat, but the left fielder helped stop the bleeding with his grab, and Doc escaped after a double play. 
After the bats added three insurance runs to take an 8-2 lead in the eighth inning—and really, look no further than this game to see how important insurance runs can be—Doc gave up the Castillo homer in the bottom of the frame, then induced three straight outs and handed the ball to Jake Diekman for the ninth. 
Diekman's debut was impressive (3 K in 1.1 IP), but there are plenty of unanswered questions for the kid. With an 8-3 lead, this was the perfect opportunity to see how he'd respond in his second appearance. He has some funky, hitter-fooling stuff, like he's throwing a rock at a dead bird. But his control is a question, and some near misses resulted in a 4-pitch walk to start the bottom of the ninth. Diekman got Castro to fly out, but then walked pinch hitter Jeff Baker, got Joe Mather to line out, then hit Ian Stewart to load the bases. 
After Castillo again struck with late-inning damage, doubling in all three baserunners, Diekman's night was done. Jonathan Papelbon came in on the eve of his matchup against the Red Sox, allowed a hit that scored a run, but then got a groundout to end the game, 8-7. 
Phewwww. 
On a night where every run counted, the Phils didn't stop swinging. They preserved a win for the ace and gave the new bullpen kid enough cushion to get whooped and not have a loss on his head. We'll take it. 
Up NextCole Hamels hosts righty Daniel Bard as the Phillies-Red Sox series kicks off tonight in South Philly. Also in town across the parking lot are the Celtics, with gorgeous weather on tap for the whole weekend. Do it right, Philadelphia... 
VOTE CHOOCHTake a minute from your Captain Busyface schedule today and vote Chooch for the All-Star Game. Could he possibly be more deserving? Short answer: No. 
And, if you like the design above, that's via Mr. Rick Penguin at zoowithroy.com. Pick one up here. 

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.