What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Phillies' Injuries

What Philly Is Overreacting To: The Phillies' Injuries

If baseball games
are won in the hearts and minds of fans, the Phillies have already lost.
Chase Utley would be the perfect metaphor for this team right now, as
they come limping a bit more literally into the regular season with a
pair of players who will return to the diamond, well, whenever they get
around to it.

We've all experienced together the doom and gloom side of being a
Philadelphia sports fan. Unstoppable forces have met immovable objects.
What's meant to be turned out was not to be. The fear is the Phillies,
for all their aces, all their accolades, all the hype, will somehow fall
short of our expectations, lofty as they are.

They will not be undone in April though. The Phils will begin this
season without two critical pieces, and those absences will undoubtedly
be felt in ninth innings and clutch situations. Still, it's a little
early to be hitting the panic button, don't you think?

Utley will be back. Let's say for the sake of
discussion it's not until after the All Star break, and the Phillies
would have to scrape by for the next three months or so.

Raise your hand if you think they'll be out of the pennant race at
that point. Shoot, raise your hand if you think they won't be in first
place.

That's not intended as a slight on the rest of the NL East. The
Phillies are just that good. They still have five All Stars and two Most
Valuable Players in the starting lineup. They still have four aces, two
Cy Youngs, and a World Series MVP in their rotation.

With or without Utley, the team is going to be right there. You could
make the case the Fightins could win the whole thing without him.,
that's how loaded they are. The fact that he's expected back is a bonus.

And before you go all he might not be 100% on me, that's
fine. 50% of Chase Utley is better than most second basemen. It's not
ideal, but stick him in the lineup somewhere, and he's going to make
good things happen through sheer determination.

Brad Lidge... okay. This certainly is a concern, but
again, not so much because he's going to miss a portion of the season.
With his ever ongoing durability issues, and one very forgettable '09
season lingering in the rear view mirror, it's becoming harder and
harder to gamble on his success.

Which isn't to say there definitely will be rocky roads ahead either. Maybe Lidge returns healthy, and it's Lights Out again.

Or maybe not. Here's the good news though: this gives them plenty of
time to sort it out. I would imagine there will be a few save situations
before Lidge returns, perhaps even a handful in April. (Hey, you don't
know with this caliber starting pitching.) So it stands to reason that
if something should happen and Lidge can't go again, or simply doesn't
have it, Charlie Manuel will know where to turn.

And if nobody takes the ball? Supposing it can't be Madson—or
Contreras, or Romero, or even Matthieson—why not deal for another
closer? Certainly there should be some idea as to whether there is a
finisher in that bullpen by July 31.

Honestly, it's hardly worth getting distressed over so early, not with the roto they have.

Injuries? You haven't seen injuries. Yeah, the rest
of the team isn't exactly a picture of health. Placido Polanco has a
banged up elbow. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard both missed significant
time last season. They're all pretty much in their 30's, which Matt P.
can tell you means everything breaks easier.

It would be foolish not to acknowledge an increasing number of
injuries could derail the Phillies' season, just as it could any team in
any sport. It's the nature of the game.

Well you can only worry about what you know. Utley and Lidge are
hurting. That's not a good start, but it's April. Right now, both guys
are expected back wellll before the post-season begins.

That's what's important. While anything could happen between now and
October, the Phillies not reaching the playoffs should be the last thing
on anybody's mind. What they look like when they get there, that's a
little more difficult to predict, but a couple of injuries on Opening
Day shouldn't leave anybody believing this season is spiraling out of
control.

Yet.

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

You knew it probably wasn't going to be a very good night for the Phillies after Jayson Werth led off the game with a home run for the Washington Nationals. After the smarting blow from our former WFC RF, the Nats picked up another run to go up 2-0 in the first, and that was plenty for the NL East leaders on a windy Monday night in Philly. The Fightins managed just four hits, one walk, and zero runs worth of offense, and Tanner Roark and the Nats shut 'em out, 4-0, for the series opener. (That's Werth's 18th homer against the Phils, btw — one off his single-opponent high of 19 against the Braves, and in about 60 fewer games.)

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete wash for the Phils: We got our best start yet — indeed, the first one that would likely qualify as "good" — from young righty starter Jake Thompson, who buckled down after the two first-inning runs, and went six scoreless from there. (Thompson had yet to pitch more than three consecutive innings without an earned run in his four starts to date.) The starter's finest inning was his last, where he notched all three of his strikeouts on the evening, including a particular beauty dropped in for a third strike on an incredulous Trea Turner to close the frame. For a 22-year-old pitcher whose early-career issues are often said to be more mental than mechanical, it could be a huge confidence boost to come through like that against one of the best offenses in the NL.

Meanwhile, the other hero for the Phils tonight came in the guise of a fan sitting on the first-base line, who responded to a Frank Herrmann pickoff overthrow by reflexively cleanly fielding the ball as it bounced near the seats. The fan-interference got Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon, who was well on his way to third base, called back to second, incensing Washington manager Dusty Baker and earning the fan a good deal of high-fives from the fans in his section. He got booted from the stadium — and Rendon was rewarded third base anyway after Baker's challenge was supported by replay — but y'know. No one can say dude didn't do what he could, and that's all anyone can ask of a real fan.

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Max Scherzer at 7:00 tonight. Still just 9.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.

Penn State tries to move forward without abandoning Joe Paterno

ap-joe-paterno_0.jpg
AP

Penn State tries to move forward without abandoning Joe Paterno

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Legends tend to linger in college football even after they are gone. At Penn State, getting out from under Joe Paterno's shadow is more complicated than the typical transition from a coaching giant.

After being the most stable — in many ways stagnant — football program in the country for nearly five decades, Penn State has been awash in change in the five years since Jerry Sandusky became infamous and dragged down Paterno with him.

Moving forward has required Penn State's new leaders to perform a most difficult maneuver: Distancing the school from a child sexual-abuse scandal that drew worldwide attention and shook Happy Valley, while not appearing to abandon the memory of the coach who many Penn Staters believe gave the university an identity for which they can still be proud.

"I think that is the ultimate challenge here," Penn State coach James Franklin told The Associated Press. "How do you balance the history, the traditions, all the wonderful things that are deep rooted here and have been here forever, (while) also making moves that you need to be progressive and to be moving towards a healthy present and a healthy future."

Franklin is entering his third season at Penn State. For the first time this season, Franklin will have the full allotment of 85 scholarships available when the Nittany Lions open at home against Kent State on Saturday. Penn State has gone 7-6 each of Franklin's first two years.

Moving forward at Penn State, though, is not just about getting past NCAA scholarship sanctions and bowl bans.

For Franklin, the 44-year-old first African-American football coach in Penn State history, one challenge is trying to get former players to actively support a program that no longer feels like home.

"The ones that have come back and been around us and spent time with us and come to practice have been really good," the former Vanderbilt coach said. "But there's been a group of guys that haven't been back because once again there's a fracture. There's still hurt feelings. It's not as just simple as the new coach."

Paterno coached at Penn State for 46 seasons. He was fired by the school's board of trustees days after Sandusky, his longtime defensive coordinator, was arrested in November 2011 for molesting and raping boys. Paterno died two and a half months later of lung cancer.

The statue of Paterno was removed from outside Beaver Stadium on July 22, 2012. Paterno's name is still on the campus library built in part by his donations, but highly visible and university sponsored signs of him are hard to find.

"I think Penn State needs to embrace Joe Paterno for who he was, for what he did at Penn State, unequivocally and without hesitation," said Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State alum and elected member of the board of trustees.

Lubrano said the university at minimum needs to apologize to Paterno's wife, Sue, display the statue again and rename the stadium Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.

While juggling wishes of ardent supporters like Lubrano, university leadership is also trying to convey to those for whom Paterno will never be completely redeemed that Penn State's values were not tied directly to one man.

Splits in the relationship between Penn State and its supporters can take a practical toll on the university and athletic department's ability to compete with Michigan and Ohio State in the Big Ten. According to a university report, private support and donations to Penn State have seesawed widely since the scandal, from a high of $274.8 million in 2011 to $226 million in 2015.

Penn State's average attendance the last four seasons is 98,685, among the best in the country. But Beaver Stadium seats 107,000-plus and 9,000 empty seats per game costs the athletic department millions.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour and her team are considering a massive facilities upgrade, including either a renovation or a rebuild of the 56-year-old stadium. Donors will be needed, but the mere suggestion of taking down the stadium was not well received by some fans, Barbour said.

Barbour and Franklin try to stress that they will protect the things Paterno left behind that Penn Staters value most: Continuing Paterno's so-called Grand Experiment of prioritizing academics and character and winning the right way.

"Depending on their position people may look at him differently, but it doesn't change that he created that here. Or helped to create that here," said Barbour, the former California AD.

As outsiders trying to lead an athletic department that had the same face for nearly 50 years, Barbour and Franklin understand full support and acceptance will take time. Winning more football games would help, but there's a chicken-and-egg relationship between support and winning.

"I think we are still going through a healing process. I think what made Penn State successful for so long, and I think if you look at the programs across the country that were having success at the highest levels, everybody's aligned," Franklin said. "The head football coach, the athletic director, the president, the board and the alumni. That's what Penn State was for a long time. We need to get back to that to be the program that everybody wants us to be."

Many in the Penn State community are not yet ready to let go of how the school and Paterno were blamed and punished for the crimes of Sandusky, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

"And what many Penn Staters believe that the entirety of the Penn State community was accused of is really difficult for them to process," Barbour said. "That as a Penn State alum, as a Penn State employee, they're being painted with that brush."

The Paterno family and their staunchest supporters, including some of Penn State's most famous football alumni such as Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, have dug in on redeeming the coach.

"Since Joe Paterno died, a lot of people suddenly got brave and said a lot of things about him that weren't true because he couldn't defend himself," Jay Paterno, Joe's son and a former Penn State assistant coach, said in a recent speech to the Lake Erie Alumni Association.

The latest round of allegations came in May from unsealed court documents, with an alleged Sandusky victim saying he complained to Paterno about Sandusky in 1976 and was rebuffed. University President Eric Barron responded with a carefully worded defense of the school and Paterno.

"None of these allegations about the supposed knowledge of university employees has been substantiated in a court of law or in any other process to test their veracity," Barron said.

But Barron, Barbour and Franklin can only go so far in their recognition of Paterno.

The 50th anniversary of Paterno's first game as Penn State coach is Sept. 17, when the Nittany Lions host Temple. There is a celebration in the works and a dinner being planned for family members, friends and former players in the State College area the night before the game. No event is scheduled yet to acknowledge the anniversary at Beaver Stadium.

"No matter what position as leadership you take on the continuum, there are others that are going to criticize," Barbour said. "Those that think that Penn State's not been stood up for enough. There are those that think Coach Paterno has not been stood up for enough. There are those that think Coach Paterno has been stood up for too much. It's all along the continuum. For leadership, really for anybody, that's a challenge."

Penn State football will never be the same, but there is hope for those who believe some things should never change.

"Have these times been difficult?" senior offensive lineman Andrew Nelson said. "Yeah, sure. But Penn State is defined by the tradition, you know? It's defined by the academics. It's defined by the type of guys that come play here. It doesn't matter exactly who's sitting in that head coaching position, we have special things here. After a while, Coach Franklin really helped us buy into that. And he bought into that, too. What makes Penn State special will always be here."