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

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?

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Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

Best of NFL: Matthew Stafford's late TD pass leads Lions past Redskins

DETROIT -- Matthew Stafford threw a go-ahead, 18-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.

The Lions (4-3) extended their winning streak to three games. The Redskins (4-3) had won four straight.

Stafford, who set up game-winning kicks in the previous two games, led his team to another win in the 100th game of his career. He was 18 of 29 for 266 yards, one TD and no turnovers.

Kirk Cousins scored a go-ahead TD on a 19-yard run with 1:05 left (see full recap).

4 interceptions power Giants past Rams in London
LONDON -- The Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby, a sold-out and raucous Twickenham Stadium.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants' 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie easily picked off. Keenum's intended target, Brian Quick, failed to get the quarterback's audible and cut off his route early.

Keenum, who finished 32 of 53 for 291 yards and one touchdown, has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games. That likely will fuel debate on a potential quarterback change to overall No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.

Landon Collins returned his first of two picks 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also had two interceptions (see full recap).

Fitzpatrick relieves Smith, propels Jets to comeback win over Ravens
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced an injured Geno Smith and led the Jets on three scoring drives, and a rejuvenated defense came up with two rare interceptions.

Fitzpatrick came in for Smith in the second quarter and led the Jets on a go-ahead drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown catch by Matt Forte. Fitzpatrick finished 9 of 14 for 120 yards and a touchdown as the Jets (2-5) snapped a four-game losing streak.

Smith injured his right knee while taking a sack from Baltimore's Matthew Judon. Fitzpatrick was efficient after losing his job earlier in the week.

Joe Flacco started for Baltimore (3-4), loser of four in a row, after being questionable with a sore shoulder. He went a team-record 176 consecutive throws without an interception before Buster Skrine picked off his pass in the third quarter (see full recap).

Ajayi rushes for 200 yards in second straight game as Dolphins top  Bills
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Jay Ajayi tied an NFL record by surpassing 200 yards rushing for the second game in a row. Ajayi rushed for 214 yards in 29 carries after totaling 204 yards a week earlier in a win over Pittsburgh. He scored on a 4-yard run, and busted a 53-yarder when the Dolphins were pinned at their 3 and trailing in the fourth quarter.

The Dolphins (3-4) used an extra lineman much of the time to clear big holes for Ajayi, who tied the NFL record for consecutive 200-yard games held by O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams.

Miami overcame an 11-point deficit with 16 minutes left to end a four-game winning streak by the Bills (4-3) and beat them for only the second time in their past seven meetings.

Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy, ranked second in the NFL in rushing, started, but totaled only 11 yards in eight carries before departing with a hamstring problem (see full recap).

Luck improves to 8-0 vs. Titans in Colts' 34-26 win
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Andrew Luck threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Jack Doyle with 1:55 left to put Indianapolis ahead to stay, and the Colts rallied to beat the Titans for their 10th straight win against their AFC South rival.

The Colts (3-4) came in having lost two of three, including blowing a 14-point lead in an overtime loss last week at Houston. But Luck he improved to 8-0 against the Titans with yet another comeback win. He finished with 353 yards passing and three TDs, the last after Tennessee went up 23-20.

T.Y. Hilton caught seven passes for 133 yards, including a 37-yard TD. The Colts shook off 12 penalties for 131 yards in pulling out their 15th win in 16 games against Tennessee.

The Titans (3-4) saw their two-game winning string end.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a pair of field goals, and the second, a 33-yarder with 3:46 left in the third quarter gave him an NFL record 43 consecutive field goals made (see full recap).

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Eagles 21, Vikings 10: Evaluating Carson Wentz

Sunday was by far the ugliest game of Carson Wentz's young career.
But it was also a gutsy effort by the rookie quarterback in a 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).
It's not too surprising that Wentz struggled against a Minnesota defense that has been among the best in the NFL this season. Wentz finished 16 of 28 for 138 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Wentz against the Vikings.
1st quarter, 9:46, 2nd-and-12, PHI 9 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Starting with the ugly, Wentz has no business throwing this football. There was no pressure on the play. Wentz has time and throws to Brent Celek, who was smothered by linebacker Eric Kendricks. There was no window to throw into and Wentz, as he does from time to time, misses high and hits safety Andrew Sendejo.
1st quarter, 5:28, 3rd-and-11, PHI 38 — Eagles 0, Vikings 0
Another throw that just made no sense to try to make. Wentz does get some early pressure to his right, but he dances around it pretty easily and has plenty of time to reset and make a better read. Sure, Mike Zimmer is a defensive wiz and does an excellent job disguising coverages, but there's no excuse for Wentz here. Nelson Agholor is double covered and this is an easy pick for Xavier Rhodes.
2nd quarter, 0:55, 1st-and-10, MIN 38 — Eagles 8, Vikings 3
Love the play call here. The Eagles just converted a huge fourth down. With time running down in the half, Doug Pederson elects to take a shot down the field. It sort of looked like Rhodes fell asleep while Dorial Green-Beckham shifted gears and started to run by him on a stutter go route. The ball looks like it's leading Green-Beckham perfectly, but Rhodes has an elbow in DGB's gut and a fist full of jersey. If Rhodes doesn't grab Green-Beckham, it's likely a touchdown. Ultimately, it's an incompletion. The refs were really letting the defensive backs be physical on both sides.
3rd quarter, 8:25, 1st-and-10, MIN 28 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
This play sort of typified Wentz's day: It was almost disastrous but the kid found a way to get it done. Wentz, who had issues all day simply hanging on to the football, fumbled the snap. It didn't appear to be a great snap by Jason Kelce, but it also appeared that Wentz took his eyes off it. It's probably one he should've handled. What is so impressive about Wentz is that there isn't an ounce of panic in his game. He simply picks up the loose ball, rolls to his right and hits Darren Sproles for 19 yards. Similar to the big play against the Steelers, Wentz drew the linebacker Kendricks with the threat of running, leaving Sproles wide open for an easy pitch and catch.
3rd quarter, 5:45, 3rd-and-goal, MIN 5 — Eagles 11, Vikings 3
We've been hearing about Green-Beckham's role possibly expanding, but it hasn't quite come to fruition. Pederson pointed out earlier in the week that he'd like to get DGB involved in the red zone and that he excelled at running slants and using his big body. That's exactly what happened on this play. Wentz put the ball right on the money on the slant and Green-Beckham bullied his way into the end zone. The stats aren't impressive (two catches on four targets for eight yards and a touchdown), but it's clear Wentz is starting to look for Green-Beckham more.
Overall analysis
After forcing the issue in the first half against an elite defense, Wentz settled in and let the game come to him. The protection held up for the most part and Wentz just took what the Vikings were giving him. What you have to love is that Wentz found a way to get it done on a day when it looked like he couldn't. He played game manager and let his defense dominate in the second half. The ball security issues — the two picks, a couple bobbled snaps — are troubling, but really a gutsy performance by the kid.