Whats With All the Negativity over the Phillies?

Whats With All the Negativity over the Phillies?

The Phillies finished 2012 with an 81-81 record, missing the
playoffs for the first time since 2006. For some reason, this came as a
relative surprise to some fans, even though we knew full well they weren’t
going to have Ryan Howard for half a season, and it wasn’t long into spring
training before we came to a similar realization about Chase Utley. That’s the
heart of the club’s batting order – a former league MVP and a five-time All
Star.

As if that weren’t enough, Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee
and Roy Halladay both did stints on the disabled list, with Doc missing more
than a month of action. Behind them the relief pitching crumbled, the injuries
and outright poor performances piling up so high, the bullpen reached a point
where it was Jonathan Papelbon and a bunch of Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Only
four bullpens in all of Major League Baseball were charged with more losses.

You can see how a team with these types of issues could get
out to a 37-50 start leading into the All-Star break, and still be as many as
13 games back of .500 on July 21. Now trade two-thirds of the outfield – a pair
of All Stars in Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence – then suffer yet another
injury, this to Carlos Ruiz who is in the midst of a career year, and the
Phillies could have conceivably thrown in the towel.

Except that’s not what happened. Gimpy Howard, Bum-Knees
Utley, and the Ghost of Halladay wouldn’t let it happen. Instead they posted a 44-31
record over the second half, a winning percentage of .587. Over 162 games that
would be good for 95 wins, which is more than enough to make the playoffs,
possibly even steal the NL East.

Now take into account the fact that the Phillies just set a
franchise record for wins in a season with 102 in 2011, and tell me which part
of 2012 was the fluke: the 37-50 start, or the 44-31 finish?

Why is there so much panic over the Phillies this winter?
Yes, the core of this team has aged by another 365 days. Yes, injuries are
always a concern with older players. Yes, certain individuals’ declines could
be attributed to normal trajectory in these later stages of their careers.

Yet somehow when you put them all on the diamond together,
they still win baseball games.

Then look at what they did in this offseason, and try telling
anybody with a straight face that the Phillies are not improved.

The bullpen, which was the bane of their existence, has been
fortified. Mike Adams is a high-end relief pitcher who can handle the eighth
inning. Chad Durbin is a reliable middle-innings guy. Add them to the mix with
Papelbon and a host of promising, young arms, and consider last season’s
biggest problem solved – they easily earn a Wild Card in 2012 with a
respectable pen, even despite all their other issues.

When it comes to Michael Young at third base, am I missing
something? Is the seven-time All Star not an upgrade over a decrepit Placido
Polanco? Young might be 36, hasn’t regularly played the position in two years,
and is even coming off of a down season, but at least he has been healthy, and he
actually had one of his more productive seasons at the plate in 2011, leading
the American League in hits. He doesn’t have to bat above .300 or whack 20-plus
homers to help this club – but he could. Seems like a fine stopgap to me.

The excessive whining over Delmon Young is even more
curious. For starters, I don’t see the issue with adding a little competition,
and here’s a guy that is going to be motivated to stay in shape and out of
trouble. If he wins the job in right field over Domonic Brown – which is not a
given at all – are we really complaining about a player who has the potential
to hit .290 and drive in 100 runs in this lineup?

In both Michael’s and Delmon Young’s cases, I’m looking at higher-end
capabilities they understandably may not achieve. However, even their low-end
expectancies are not hurting the ball club, unless either one of them falls off
a cliff. And with Kevin Frandsen and Brown, there are contingency plans, or
late-inning defensive replacements at the very least.

The only place the Phillies have experienced a noticeable drop-off
is in center field, where 24-year-old Ben Revere has some admittedly big shoes
to fill. But then Victorino wasn’t exactly having a great season last year, and
after he left, the team was winning games with the likes of John Mayberry out
there. Revere restores some semblance of a defensive advantage in the outfield,
while adding some much-needed speed to the batting order.

That’s a lot of improvement from my point of view. No, it’s
not like dropping a Josh Hamilton into the clubhouse, but they didn’t
necessarily need to do that, either.

With a healthy core, the Phillies were already a
playoff-bound baseball team in all likelihood. They added an All-Star third
baseman, an offensive-minded right fielder, and a fleet-footed centerfielder –
not to mention they appear to have fixed the bullpen – all while keeping the
payroll under the luxury tax. It’s not as if the free-agent market was bursting
at the seams with incredible, young talent – talent that has to be paid for by
the way.

And I don’t care what the Washington Nationals or the
Atlanta Braves did, either. Maybe they did get better, but maybe neither of
them is better than the Phillies in the first place if Howard, Utley, and
Halladay had been healthy.

What else would you have liked Ruben Amaro Jr. to do? The
core of the Phillies was not the problem last season, their absence for half of
it was. This offseason was always going to be about finding the right
combination of complementary players to help compete for a championship, but
doing so while keeping one eye trained toward the future. They were sellers at
the trade deadline for a reason.

Utley, Halladay, and Ruiz are free agents next season, and
Rollins could be the following year. The Youngs are on one-year deals as well,
and Lee is constantly rumored to be on the block lately. The Phillies are going
to look like a vastly different team within the next few years as players rise
up through their farm system, while the front office scrapes some cash together
to make a few renovations.

Just not before they make one last run with this group. The
talent is there to win 95 this year, maybe even 102. It’s a veteran ball club,
which is a euphemism for old to be sure, but what reason have they given you to
believe they don’t have that run in them?

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:"";
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif";
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

052416-zang-on-qbs-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692165699514.jpg

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you spend billions of dollars to build it, they will come.

Three times over.

The NFL awarded Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, three cities that made significant financial investments in new stadiums or recently upgraded an existing one. Atlanta will host the game in 2019, followed by Miami (2020) and Los Angeles (2021), it was announced Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

"I think if they find guys like me that are willing to do it, I think they want to show them that it is worthwhile," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

Atlanta will host its third Super Bowl, but the first at its new $1.4 billion stadium which opens in 2017. The previous two were at the Georgia Dome.

Miami will have its record-setting 11th Super Bowl following a $450 million stadium renovation.

Los Angeles, which gets the relocated Rams this season, has not had a Super Bowl in the area since 1993 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game will be played at the new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, which opens in 2019.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans were also in the running to host a Super Bowl (see full story).

Steelers: Bell believes Bengals targeted him
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell considers the first injury of his NFL career -- a sprained foot in a preseason game three years ago -- a freak accident.

The last two? Not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict twisted Bell awkwardly as the two tumbled out of bounds just a few yards away from where Bell's 2014 season ended after taking a shot to the same knee from Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.

Burfict celebrated openly as Bell writhed in pain, a memory that lingers even after Burfict reached out on social media in March to express support as Bell worked his way through rehab.

"Obviously it looked like they were happy about it," Bell said. "I'll take the liberty of just thinking everybody plays just football to love the game. But people aren't out here playing like that. People are playing to take people out. Obviously I know that now" (see full story).

Cardinals: Fitzgerald not thinking beyond this season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald has been an Arizona Cardinal all 12 of his NFL seasons, breaking every franchise receiving record along the way.

Now, he enters the final year of a two-year, $22 million contract, and he said Tuesday that he doesn't even think about whether he will play football beyond this season, with the Cardinals or anyone else.

"We're just in OTAs right now, man," he said. "We've got training camp and minicamp and the regular season. We've got a long ways to go before that's even a point of discussion. So I'm enjoying this. I'm trying to make it the best year yet."

Fitzgerald will turn 33 before next season begins. And last season proved he remains one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

"I think Larry has a lot of tread left on the tire," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Obviously he's in the last year of his deal. That's out of my pay scale. But obviously I think he's still got juice in the system" (see full story).

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

052416-ingram-slide.jpg

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

The Sixers are taking their talent evaluation on the road.

On Tuesday, members of the front office attended a workout for Excel Sports Management in New York, which included Brandon Ingram, the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jamal Murray, a projected lottery pick, and Thon Maker, according to the Inquirer.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own facility, and it is common for teams to attend organized workouts for higher-rated prospects. Head coach Brett Brown, managing owner Josh Harris and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley traveled to the session, but president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was in Toronto for his son's high school graduation, according to the report.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the upcoming draft. The decision between one and two is widely considered to be between Ingram and Ben Simmons (see story). The Sixers have the assets on their roster to move up from Nos. 24 and 26 through a trade, which makes scouting prospects outside of the top two an integral part to their evaluation.

The team has worked out 12 players in Philadelphia and will continue to do so up until the draft on June 23. 

10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

052416-zangaro-on-schwartz-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692149827897.jpg

10 observations from Eagles OTA practice Tuesday

Finally some nice weather.

The Eagles began their second round of OTAs on Tuesday under the beaming sun, in near-80 degree temperatures. That’s a departure from the first day of rookie camp and the first day of last week’s OTAs, which both brought rain.

So without the confinements of the practice bubble and without a slick football, we got a chance to see the 2016 Eagles in desirable conditions Tuesday.

Here are 10 observations from Tuesday’s practice:

1. Overall, a pretty sloppy day for the defense. As soon as the team portion of the practice began, Sam Bradford got the defensive line to jump about three times in the first several plays of practice. Late in the practice, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had enough and ripped into a second-year defensive back.

During his nearly 30-minute press conference after practice, Schwartz was asked about his past experience grooming a first-round quarterback (Matthew Stafford), but said he doesn’t have much time to worry about Carson Wentz.

“We’ve got enough worries on defense right now,” he said.

2. If you’re looking for a bright spot on defense, we’ll offer up rookie defensive back Jalen Mills. On Tuesday, Mills got a chance to work against the first-team offense in the Nickel package. When Mills came on the field, Ron Brooks moved inside, while Leodis McKelvin remained outside.

Mills made the defensive play of the day, when he got in between Jordan Matthews and a deep sideline pass.

“He’s been impressive so far,” Schwartz said of the seventh-rounder Mills. “But we haven’t even really started yet, to tell you the truth.”

Schwartz said the team wanted to see how Mills would look going against veterans; before Tuesday, he had mostly been going against rookies.

“We don’t have a depth chart right now,” Schwartz cautioned.

While those three worked with the first team on Tuesday, there could be different players there Wednesday. And Nolan Carroll, who’s still recovering, isn’t yet able to do team drills.

3. Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) and Ryan Mathews (illness) both missed practice on Tuesday, which gave some other guys more reps.

At running back, it meant Kenjon Barner worked with the first team, while rookie fifth-rounder Wendell Smallwood worked with the twos. With Mathews out and with Darren Sproles still away, the team had just three running backs suited up on Tuesday. Barner looked pretty good with the first team on Tuesday.

The starting widouts were Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Jordan Matthews. When all three were on the field, Matthews was mostly in the slot. But one guy who did a lot with his reps on Tuesday was free-agent signing Chris Givens. Now, obviously, these guys are still in shorts, but Givens showed off his speed and hands. He’s making a push for the roster as the last receiver to make the team.

4. Fletcher Cox is still not with the team (see story). Last week, during the open practice, Taylor Hart worked next to Bennie Logan in his spot. Tuesday, it was free-agent pickup Mike Martin.

“I’ve been working with them,” Martin said after practice. “We’ve been switching and working both sides. But it’s a great advantage to be able to work with the first-team guys and get those reps.”

5. You’re probably wondering how Wentz looked. He again showed off his strong arm on Tuesday, while working with the threes. Overall, he probably had the best day of the quarterbacks.

He delivered a perfect 25-yard sideline pass to Givens over the shoulder. On another play, he tripped over his offensive lineman’s foot, but was still able to complete an out to Trey Burton while falling. That’s all arm strength, because he couldn’t use his legs to complete the pass.

The one thing we have seen a couple times from Wentz is this: he has a strong arm, but sometimes he has overthrown his targets. Nothing major yet, but something to keep an eye on.

6. Jordan Hicks was back at MIKE with the defense during Tuesday’s team portion of practice, which is a good sign for a team that’s relying on him heavily. Last Tuesday, he was held out with some tightness in his legs.

While Hicks has been playing the middle linebacker spot, Schwartz talked about the versatility of that group.

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable, and you have to be now,” Schwartz said.

7. Last Tuesday, head coach Doug Pederson said Cody Parkey wouldn’t be a full-go until perhaps training camp, but the kicker was hitting field goals on Tuesday and looked pretty good.

He did miss about a 43-yarder, but he still has a really good shot to make the team over Caleb Sturgis, who did a nice job filling in last season. It’s not definitely Parkey’s job yet, though. Sturgis looked good Tuesday and that’ll definitely be a competition to watch come training camp.

8. Donnie Jones is the only punter left in the building after the team cut Ryan Quigley earlier this week.

Jones celebrated by booming several punts on Tuesday. He’s still pretty good.

9. Burton has been moving around the field quite a bit in the early going. He’s been lining up on the line as a tight end, in the backfield as a fullback and in the slot as a receiver. It’s pretty clear that in some packages, Pederson and the offense will have a fullback of some kind.

Come training camp, when the hitting begins, Burton will really need to show he can handle that role.

10. Perhaps the most notable change in practice under Pederson, as opposed to Chip Kelly, comes in the form of pace. Under Kelly, the emphasis was on running as many plays as possible in the time allotted, which meant correcting mistakes after practice.

“His approach was to get no-huddle,” left guard Allen Barbre said of Kelly (more on Barbre). “If you stop to correct it all the time, you wouldn’t be getting a no-huddle practice.”

Under Pederson, there’s much more on-field teaching during practice. At one point on Tuesday, Pederson actually stopped the practice, taught technique and made them run it again. Under Kelly, the offense would have been five plays down the line.