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?

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Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union-Crew 5 things: Still in good position, Jim Curtin's club looks to rebound

Union at Crew
7:30 p.m. on TCN

Despite being dominated by Toronto FC on Saturday, the Union (9-9-7) managed to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, thanks to a handful of fortunate results around the league. But if the club wants to better its odds for the postseason, it needs to take care of business at Mapfre Stadium on Wednesday night against the Columbus Crew (4-8-11).

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Playoff push
It hasn’t been a convincing few weeks for the Union. Although the club still sits fourth in the Eastern Conference despite one win in its last six games, it needs points to stay afloat. That quest begins on Wednesday against the Crew.

“The focus is getting points,” Union defender Richie Marquez said. “For us, home or away, we need three points because we need to solidify that playoff spot.”

As of now the Union are in snug playoff position with 34 points — one ahead of the Montreal Impact and six in front of D.C. United and Orlando City for the sixth and final playoff spot. On the plus side, the club is one point behind the New York Red Bulls with a game in hand.

“It’s a push to get into the playoffs and try to see how high we can end up in the table,” Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “It’s important we don’t look too much at the standings because anything can happen in this league. It’s all really tight. It’s important we go to Columbus with the right mentality and come back to Philly with three points.”

2. Coming off a loss
Speaking of the playoff push, the Union’s dream of being a top-two seed in the East took a major hit on Saturday in a 3-1 bashing by Toronto FC. The loss put Toronto up six and New York City FC up seven on the Union. 

Worst of all, it crushed all Union momentum coming out of a 4-0 win over the New England Revolution a week prior. Still, the club maintains its confidence heading into Wednesday.

“I feel good about this team and the players we have,” Bedoya said. “The goals we gave up were too easy. We have talent on this team, but there’s little things we have to fix. Once we get those right, we’ll be tough to break down.” 

As Jim Curtin explained, the short turnaround from Saturday actually works in the Union’s favor. 

“We were smart with how we managed the past two days in terms of getting the guys massages, taking care of their bodies, eating right and getting enough sleep,” he said. “They’ll be ready to go, they’re itching to get the bad taste out of their mouth after the Toronto game.”

3. Win-starved Crew
With the help of Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain, the Crew took down the floundering Revolution over the weekend. But that’s nothing to celebrate over. It was just the club’s fourth win of the season and second since May 28. 

The Crew are currently closer to having the lowest point total in MLS than a playoff spot.

“It’s been tough,” Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a team that I believe in deeply but it’s natural that confidence dips when you don’t get the results. It’s about believing in our playing style and fine-tuning things, approving in some areas. I think we did that in the last game.” 

Though the Crew attempt to climb out of the basement on Wednesday, they know what they are up against. The Union took the first season meeting against the Crew, 2-1, and the second, 3-2. 

“They added Bedoya, who is a quality player,” Berhalter said. “Other than that, it’s similar to what they’ve been doing all year with [C.J.] Sapong and talented players behind him. Bedoya makes a good difference there, but they are a solid group and they’ll play with intensity. From our side, we’ll have to be smart how we approach the game.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Facing the Crew twice this season, the Union have five goals. Chris Pontius has three of them. The Union forward scored the brace on March 12, then buried another on June 1. 

Crew: MLS rookie Ola Kamara leads the Crew with 10 goals, including one against the Union on June 1. Since May 28, the forward has 10 goals and one assist in 12 games.

5. This and that
• Facing the Crew has always been tough for the Union. Including two wins this season, the Union are 6-10-1 against the Crew all-time.

• The Union have only suffered back-to-back losses twice this season, and both times it happened in the club’s last 10 games.

• Of Kamara’s 10 goals this season, six have come at home. 

• The first-ever meeting between the Union and Crew happened on Aug. 5, 2010, and was a 2-1 loss for the Union. Sebastien Le Toux scored a penalty kick but Steven Lenhart buried the brace.

How Jim Schwartz changed Stephen Tulloch's career

How Jim Schwartz changed Stephen Tulloch's career

Stephen Tulloch hasn’t just had a successful NFL career under Jim Schwartz. He’s had a successful career because of Jim Schwartz.

“I have a lot of love and respect for Coach Schwartz,” Tulloch said following his first practice with the Eagles (see story).

On Tuesday, the Eagles’ newest linebacker credited Schwartz for the Titans’ drafting him with the 116th overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft. He said Schwartz pushed for him, “when nobody else really wanted to go after” him.

“I’ll leave you with this story,” Tulloch began.

“So in 2006, I go to the NFL combine. I measure in at 5-10 and some change, whatever I was. It was the second day of the draft and [the Titans] were about to draft a guy from another school, so Coach Schwartz goes into [Jeff] Fisher’s office and makes a little tape of my highlights from college, and (former Titans linebackers coach) Dave McGinnis at the time. He changed Coach Fisher’s mind and Floyd Reese at the time was the general manager. I was the 116th pick in the [2006] draft. That was it. I came to Tennessee and the rest was history.”

So, who was the player the Titans almost drafted?

“I’m not gonna put it out there,” he said. “It was another guy and I’m fortunate enough to get drafted and still be here in the league.”

The decision worked out well for the Titans. Eventually, Tulloch became a starter and played five total years in Tennessee before moving on to Detroit. 

As for the other linebackers in the 2006 draft, well, Tulloch was one of 15 linebackers taken in the fourth round or later in 2006. To date, Tulloch has started 111 games. The other 14 have started a combined 138.

The other two linebackers taken in the fourth round in 2006 were Leon Williams to the Browns and Jamar Williams to the Bears. Leon Williams (pick No. 110) last played in 2012 and started just 12 NFL games, while Jamar Williams (pick No. 120) played five years and has just three career starts to his name.

Tulloch is still going strong. And he owes a lot to Jim Schwartz.

“I always thank him for the opportunity I had in Tennessee,” Tulloch said.

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

Jake Thompson left searching for answers after latest rough start

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — On the whole, the Phillies have made steady progress in their rebuild this season.

Cameron Rupp has improved. Maikel Franco has had a nice year. Odubel Herrera, even with his recent inconsistency, has had more ups than downs. Cesar Hernandez has been on a good roll. Freddy Galvis has 36 extra-base hits, and Tommy Joseph has opened eyes with his power. In the bullpen, Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos have shown that they just might be future studs.
 
For a good chunk of the season, the young starting pitching has shown promise, as well.
 
But lately, that corner of the team has taken some hits. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin were both ruled out for the remainder of the season last week with elbow and knee injuries, respectively, and hard-throwing Vince Velasquez has been tagged for 19 earned runs in 16 1/3 innings over his last three starts.
 
Jake Thompson’s first four major-league starts haven’t exactly inspired confidence, either. The 22-year-old right-hander was hit hard in a 9-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay). He gave up eight hits, including five for extra bases, and seven runs as his ERA swelled to 9.78. Only Mike Maddux (9.98) in 1986 had a higher ERA for the Phillies in his first four big-league starts.
 
“I’m not used to this,” Thompson said after the defeat. “I feel certain that I’m a lot better than my performance has indicated.”
 
Few pitchers come to the big leagues and dazzle right away. There is a learning curve and occasionally growing pains. But no one expected Thompson to have this much trouble out of the chute, not after what he did in his final 11 starts at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
 
Thompson went 8-0 in those 11 starts and recorded a 1.21 ERA while allowing just 10 earned runs in 74 1/3 innings. He gave up just 52 hits and 18 walks over that span while striking out 42.
 
In four starts with the big club, he has given up 22 hits and 21 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings. He has walked 13 and struck out 13.
 
He was advertised as a control and command pitcher. He has yet to show that in the majors.
 
“A lot of it has to do with his age and, I think, the fact he’s in the big leagues for the first time trying to make a good impression,” manager Peter Mackanin said. “He probably feels like he needs to make perfect pitches every time. All he’s got to do is keep the ball down. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff. He relies on command and control and he hasn’t shown that. I attribute a lot of that to his youth and inexperience.”
 
So does Rupp, the catcher.
 
“How many guys do you see come to the big leagues at 22 years old and just flat out dominate every time they go out?” Rupp said. “Not very many. He's young. It was his first time in Triple A this year and he pitched really well and now he's got a chance in the big leagues. I'm sure he feels like there's pressure. When you come up and you pitch so well all year and then you finally get your opportunity, you want to impress. It puts a lot on you. And as a kid, you've got to be able to control it and it's tough. It's hard.

“Nobody wants to see anybody fail. It's hard to go through. It's something that's going to make him better when he does finally figure it out."
 
Two of the walks Thompson gave up Tuesday night became runs. He gave up back-to-back homers to Jose Abreu and Justin Morneau in the fifth inning as the White Sox turned it into a rout.
 
“Just too many pitches up in the strike zone,” Mackanin said. “Everything he threw was thigh high, waist high. He couldn’t get the ball down. It’s as simple as that.”
 
Thompson concurred with his manager.
 
“The issue is pretty evident,” he said. “I'm not throwing strikes and when I am throwing strikes, they're not good strikes. It’s a frustrating thing because it's a relatively easy thing to do. I don't really have the answer right now to fix it.”
 
The game moves fast at the big-league level and confidence can become bruised quickly. Thompson said his confidence was unshaken. Still, Phillies officials have to be careful that this difficult baptism to the majors does not snowball and become something that adversely impacts Thompson's growth.
 
“It’s something that you’re concerned about and I’m concerned about,” Mackanin said.
 
Concerned enough that Thompson might not make his next start?
 
Mackanin said he expected Thompson to stay in the rotation, but added that he would speak with general manager Matt Klentak on the topic.
 
“I don’t want to see him keep getting beat up and keep struggling like this,” Mackanin said. “We’ll talk about it and see what Matt wants to do.”