Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

After spending most of the trade deadlines in our lifetimes wondering which average to above average Phillies might soon end up on a contending team, we've enjoyed the past few seasons on the receiving end. More than just the elation of learning that a specific need-filling ballplayer was on his way to PHL, there was the satisfaction of knowing why. The Phillies have recently been a team for which late July was spent preparing for October. In 2012, we're reminded that's not always a given. 
The Phillies officially became sellers after a weekend series sweep to the Braves, and despite experience to the contrary, the feeling of watching our guys' names show up rumored to be headed elsewhere is alien. On the table are regulars and role players who might better fill a need on a team with fewer of them to fill. Some are guys previously bought this time of year, including one who got to ride on a parade float. Others were brought here to get us back. 
By 4 PM today, a WFC or two could be gone. All eyes will be on Ruben Amaro Jr as we wait to evaluate how strongly he can play while holding a losing hand. 
Joe Blanton appeared to be the closest to gone on trade deadline eve, but talks had already hit several snags. The Baltimore Orioles are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and trying to ward off a close pack in the wild card race. They could use an innings eater, and they set their sights on Blanton. His medicals have already been sent. However, the Phils and O's reportedly disagree on how much—if any—salary funding will have to come to Baltimore with him. More than just the cash holdup, Amaro is said to want infielder Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore's third best prospect. Jon Heyman has a source saying the O's are declining to include Schoop. Even if he was never part of a possible package, you can bet you'll read and hear that name again every time fans are unhappy with today's actual returns. 
Blanton's never been the flashiest player in red pinstripes, but his impact when the Phillies ascended to their glory season in 2008 will never be forgotten. At least I hope not. The Phils weren't yet a team built on aces, and Blanton is a good reminder of what we thought at the time was a nice deadline pickup and how our expectations have changed since. Who knew we'd be watching him circle the bases in an October game he'd go on to win? You can probably remember exactly where you were when he did. 
Another WFC who might have already played his last game as a Phillie is Shane Victorino. 
With free agency looming, Vic isn't having what he hoped would be his contract-year production at the plate. Still, more than a few teams are interested in adding the Gold Glove centerfielder/sparkplug with playoff experience. We'll talk more about Vic's tenure as a Phillie if he actually gets dealt, and you can bet it will be a fond sendoff. What kind of return can we hope comes in exchange for the Flyin Hawaiian who once hit a postseason grand slam off of CC Sabathia? The reports have lately been sparse with details, but we're not expecting to be blown away. Early this morning, it seems the Dodgers are a favorite to land his services if he's dealt, according to reports by CBS Sports. Seeing him in that uniform would definitely draw a double-take. 
Last year's trade deadline prize for the Phils was Hunter Pence. We found out he'd be coming to Philadelphia just hours after the Eagles shocked the NFL by acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha. I remember getting texts while at PPL Park for a Union match, then scrolling through twitter and seeing it explode with news that Pence was hugging his Astros teammates in the dugout, saying goodbye after being traded to Philadelphia. One year and one cover of Philadelphia Magazine later, Pence is among those rumored to be on the block today. If so, it is doubtful he'll fetch a return equalling the package that brought him here, which included Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. Ruben's asking price may be prohibitively high though, keeping Pence here at least until the winter market opens. 
Juan Pierre is getting attention as he keeps his batting average floating above .300. At 35, he'll cost less to acquire and pay for the rest of the season than the other Phillies' outfielders, though he could still be helpful for a team looking to add a bat at the top of the order. Utility man Ty Wigginton might be as attractive to a contender battling or insuring against multiple injuries as he was to the Phillies in the off-season. 
Cliff Lee appears unlikely to be dealt due to his $25 million annual salary, which when originally signed was labeled by some as Lee "taking less to play in Philly." Lee can also block a trade to 2/3 of the league (it is uncertain which teams are on the list), further limiting Ruben's options if indeed he wants to move him. In a losing Phillies season, Lee's salary is seen by some as an albatross to be shed, if possible, and the deal that previously sent Lee out of town is being remembered more vividly than the one that brought him here just before 2009's deadline day. Lee originally became a Phillie along with Ben Francisco in exchange for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. He left town in December 2010 for JC Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies as the Phillies attempted to restock the cupboard. Both deals are solid examples of how hard it can be to judge talent before it nears MLB readiness. Despite a Lee trade having substantial barriers, part of his career destiny seems to be to change uniforms in a surprise move. If the Phillies are going to make a trade that lands them a valuable haul, he's the most likely piece to be headed the other way. Ken Rosenthal turned heads by mentioning Lee and other SP's in the same post as Justin Upton... Phillies Nation digs into the what-if
To date, dealing Major League talent for prospects hasn't been where Ruben Amaro Jr has made his name. Stocked with more cash than most opposing teams and a division-winning roster bearing few holes, he's shown his ability to add major pieces other clubs have made available. Prying away valuable prospects won't be as easy, and who knows if they even pan out. As we wait to hear which if any current Phillies will be shipped off in efforts toward bolstering the 2013-and-beyond rosters, we're hoping he can find a way to give us a makeshift Christmas in July and maybe even "win" at the table again. This year, it seems like a longshot. 
If not, we just hope he doesn't cave to a potential buyer's market and sell for the sake of selling. 

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles-Vikings 5 things: Game much bigger than Sam Bradford's return

Eagles vs. Vikings
1 p.m. on FOX

Eagles +3

A familiar face comes to town on Sunday when the Eagles host the Vikings, the NFL's last unbeaten team at 5-0.

There's more to this matchup than a certain jilted quarterback returning to Lincoln Financial Field though. After an inspired 3-0 start, the Eagles have come out flat in two consecutive games, both losses. If this squad has any hope of getting back on track in Week 7, they can't afford to focus on the high-profile former teammate in purple sleeves.

Grinding it out
How good is the Vikings' defense? Even though they're ranked fourth in the league against the run and eighth in yards per carry allowed, they've faced the second-highest number of rushing attempts. Simply put, between a fierce pass-rush and ball-hawking secondary, offenses are afraid to put the ball in the air against this team.

Opponents have decided the best way to beat the Minnesota defense is by keeping the ball on the ground — shorten the game, try to create manageable third downs and play the field position game. Of course, the best way for the Eagles to beat Washington's 28th-ranked run defense last week, with a fifth-round rookie right tackle making his first career start mind you, also would've been to hand the ball off early and often, which wasn't exactly the game plan that we saw.

As good as Carson Wentz is, the Eagles probably aren't going to beat this team by airing the ball out. It may be inefficient and look ugly, but this time, head coach Doug Pederson needs to lean on the ground attack and take the pressure off of his first-year quarterback and tackle. Otherwise, a Vikings defense that ranks third in the NFL in sacks and fourth in interceptions can take this game over.

Self-inflicted wounds
Ticky-tack calls or not, you can't blame the judgment of the officials for all of the penalties the Eagles have taken the past two weeks. Last week in Washington, they drew 13 flags for 114 yards. The week before, it was 14 flags for 111 yards. Is it really any coincidence in two losses the Eagles have been penalized 27 times for 225 yards? Unlikely.

Were one or two or even a handful of those calls excessive? Have officials missed some potential calls that could have gone the other way? Yes and yes, as is always the case. When it's that many penalties for that many yards though, you can only place so much blame on the refs.

Simply put, the players need to clean up their acts. According to TeamRankings.com, the Eagles are committing the most penalties per game at 9.8. Only one other team is above 9.0. All excuses aside, the Eagles lack discipline right now, and it's hard to beat anybody when they are continuously shooting themselves in the foot, let alone the only undefeated squad in football.

No gimmes
There is no bigger indicator of winning and losing in the NFL than turnovers. So what happens when the two teams who cough the ball up the least are going head-to-head?

One thing the Eagles did correct in Washington was the little giveaway problem that cost them the game in Detroit. After losing their first fumble and throwing their first interception of the season in the final three minutes of their loss at Detroit, the offense went back to playing turnover-free football on Sunday, one of the positive things that could be said for the performance.

Yet the only team that's committed fewer turnovers than the Eagles is the Vikings, who have just one through five games. The ball security these clubs have displayed is remarkable bordering on unheard of. So what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object? The first one to blink, or in this case make a mistake, might just cost themselves the game in what could be a tightly contested tilt.

Just a pit stop
If it feels like the Eagles' 34-3 romp of the Steelers at the Linc was a long time ago, well, it has been almost a month. Since then, there's been a bye week followed by trips to Detroit and Washington, putting the last home game at exactly four weeks ago.

Don't get used to the feeling either. After their game against the Vikings on Sunday, the Eagles go back on the road for two contests against the division rival Cowboys and Giants.

What does it all mean? Besides a travel-heavy stretch, it suggests this sandwich game with the Vikings is an especially significant spot on the Eagles' schedule, particularly given the slow starts they've jumped out to as the visiting team of late. That can't be blamed entirely on going on the road of course, but it certainly hasn't helped. Vikings or not, the Eagles could use a positive showing on Sunday before they go away again.

The Bradford Bowl
You didn't really think we were going to completely gloss over Sam Bradford, did you? Not even mention his name?

It's interesting, because right now, the trade that sent Bradford to the Vikings and cleared the way for Wentz to start at quarterback for the Eagles looks like a win-win. Both head coaches agreed with that sentiment as well. Mike Zimmer says Bradford gave the Vikings an energy back after starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with an improbable injury, while despite coming back down to earth a bit the last two weeks, it's obvious the Eagles' future is bright with Wentz.

That being said, there are some additional bragging rights at stake for both signal-callers this week, whether they acknowledge it or not. If the Eagles win, it shows their gamble on Wentz being prepared to start right away was justified. If the Vikings win, pundits could argue the Eagles never should've traded Bradford in the first place.

These are only narratives of course, and the Eagles' investment in Wentz and the Vikings' desperation trade for Bradford are both left to be judged somewhere down the road, long after this game has been played. Nonetheless, the result on Sunday is sure to spark some interesting debate in the coming days.

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21

Penn State upsets No. 2 Ohio State, 24-21


STATE COLLEGE – As his team slogged through back-to-back 7-6 seasons in his first two years as Penn State’s head coach, Langhorne native James Franklin heard time and again that he was in need of a signature victory.

Now he has one, even if he refuses to admit it.

Junior cornerback Grant Haley returned a blocked field goal 60 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:27 left as the Nittany Lions stunned second-ranked Ohio State 24-21 on Saturday night.

“That’s for you (media) guys, all that signature stuff,” Franklin said.

Not exactly.

“It’s just a game that put Penn State back on the map,” Haley said. “We needed that signature win, and we did it tonight.”

The fans stormed the field after the Lions, 5-2 after their third straight victory this season, beat a ranked team for the first time since 2013 (Wisconsin). It was also PSU’s first victory over a team ranked in the top five since 1999 (Arizona) and its first over a team slotted as high as No. 2 since 1990 (Notre Dame).

Ohio State (7-1) saw winning streaks of 20 straight road games and 17 straight Big Ten road games come to an end, despite building a 21-7 lead through three quarters.

The Lions whisked 90 yards in five plays to cut the gap to seven with 13:32 left in the game, with quarterback Trace McSorley running two yards for the TD.

Freshman linebacker Cam Brown then blocked Cameron Johnston’s punt to set up a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Davis with 9:33 remaining, making it 21-17.

Ohio State mounted a drive behind J.T. Barrett, their splendid quarterback, moving from its own 13 to the PSU 28. Barrett’s 34-yard connection with wide receiver Noah Brown was the big play.

But the Buckeyes stalled, and Tyler Durbin came on to attempt a 45-yard field goal. Penn State safety Marcus Allen made a leaping block, however, and Haley scooped up the bouncing ball and beat Durbin and Johnston, the holder, down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.

Ohio State’s final drive of the night ended with a pair of Penn State sacks, the last a combined effort by defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan with 1:02 left.

When the final gun sounded, several Penn State players sprinted toward the south end zone and launched themselves into the front row of the stands, Lambeau Leap-style, among the delirious students. And thousands of fans, all clad in white for PSU’s traditional White Out, flooded the field.

“This is for everybody,” Franklin said later. “This community’s been through so much in the last five years (a reference to the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal and its aftermath), and this is a big step in the right direction, in terms of healing. I said very, very early on that for us to get where we want to be, we need this entire community together, and a win like tonight – I know I’m biased – but I believe that football has the ability to bring a community together like nothing else.”

Moments later, he caught himself and said he “didn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the big picture.”

Rather, he added, “I just want to enjoy tonight.”