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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Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”