What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

There are a lot of “ifs” for the Phillies heading into this
season, perhaps none bigger than “if” Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy
Halladay are healthy and return to form. As long as the heart of the lineup and
ace of the staff can rebound, these aging Fightins should still pose a threat
even in a crowded National League East.

But those are three players, none of them younger than 33,
coming off of serious injuries and/or declining numbers. It might be
unreasonable to bet on any one of them replicating their award-winning and
All-Star seasons, let alone all of them. I think everybody understands that.

The good news is they might not have to.

Looking back on last year, there are some obvious, bare
minimum benchmarks for each of them. Utley needs to be available for more than
half of a season for starters, the 83 games he played in 2012 the lowest since
his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Howard needs to get on base more
than his career-worst .295, and Halladay can’t allow an earned run average of
4.49.

The real question is: what does each of them need to as
individuals to be considered successful in 2013? Because while it might be
unreasonable to expect them to revert to an All Star, MVP, or Cy Young, I’m not so
sure any of them has to attain quite that level of performance, either.

Utley

I’m not sure how much Utley’s numbers really need to improve
as much as he needs to be on the field more. For the first season in awhile, a lot of his stats were actually better than the year prior. Despite appearing
in 20 fewer games than ’11, Utley had just as many home runs (11) and one more
RBI (45). His OBP was also .21 points higher, up to .365 which is closer to what
he’s been throughout most of his career. Chase is probably past the days where he’s
going to post an OPS in the .900s, but with a full spring training and a year
of reasonably good health, a return to 2010 production (.832) is not out of the
question – it was .793 in '12.

That – good health – is the key though. Utley hasn’t played above
115 games in a season since ’09. Production is generally not the issue here, it’s
whether or not he is well enough to put his cleats on most days. If Utley can play
between 130-140 games this season, the Phillies should be better off no matter
what. Early indications are he's going to be able to do just that.

Howard

Yes, this past season was abysmal by any standards, not just Ryan
Howard’s, but what did everybody expect? He was still learning how to run again
when he came back from his torn Achilles tendon, and didn’t have much of a
spring training or rehab stretch to get the timing on that big swing of his
down.

Then again, when you’re talking about the Big Piece, just his presence
alone is meaningful. In the 66 games Howard started for the Phillies last year,
the Phillies showed slightly improved run production, going from 4.14 per game
to 4.35 per game. The difference is not quite as marginal as it might seem, as
that’s a difference of 21 runs over the course of a season, which would’ve been
enough to bump up one spot to seventh in the NL in scoring – ahead of the
Atlanta Braves. The Phillies also had a 39-27 record with Howard in the lineup,
the .591 winning percentage a few points better than what they posted over the
second half (.587). Think had he been swinging the bat reasonably well.

So even stinky Howard is better than no Howard. With his
Achilles healed, there’s no reason to believe his numbers can’t bounce back to ’10-’11 territory – we’re talking 30-35 homers, 110+ RBI, with OBP and slugging percentages
hanging around .350 and .500 respectively. That might not mean living up to his
enormous contract, but it’s enough to help the Phils win a lot of baseball games, that's for sure.

Halladay

Doc is the guy we might have to be worried about the most.
He’ll turn 36 this season, making rapid decline increasingly likely, and the stats
in 2012 are already some of his worst in over a decade. The velocity on his
fastball dipped, and perhaps as a result he was trying harder to pitch around
batters rather than running through them. After leading the league in
strikeouts-to-walks ratio for four consecutive years, that number (.367) fell below
his career average, maybe the most telling number of any.

Of course, we can now confirm that Halladay was hurt all
along. He recently admitted to having a lower back issue which he says altered
his mechanics, and there was a lengthy trip on the disabled list for an arm problem
later on.

Doc is the kind of guy you can never count out because of
his intensity though, so by no means am I predicting he can’t return to ace
status in the twilight of his career. Many great pitchers remained among the most effective in the game into their late 30s. I’m also not sure they need him to be
exactly the same pitcher who won a Cy Young with the Phillies in 2010, and
finished as the runner-up in ’11. Cole Hamels is at the top of his game, and
despite the inconvenient lack of run support, Cliff Lee still had a fine ’12 –
plus Kyle Kendrick has become reliable at the back end of the staff.

Not even really going out on a limb, but a healthy Roy
Halladay can easily do a full point better on last year's 4.49 ERA at least, and if
the Phillies are inclined to watch his innings, a quality bullpen should be
there to pick him up this season. Assuming Doc has everything sorted out with regards to his health, no
reason he shouldn’t win 16+ games again this year – and that’s if he’s not
chasing a third Cy Young award toward the end of the season.

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Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.