But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

Philadelphia
has seen its fair share of Achilles injuries over the past year. First
it was Ryan Howard crumbling out of the batter's box to close down the
Phillies' 2011 playoff hopes. In the normally quiet days of the NFL
off-season, Eagles All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his
achilles as well
, an injury compounded when a Roll-A-Bout mishap landed him a second surgery.

This week, it was the Flyers' turn. Already
appearing to need some help to bolster their defense, the team announced
that Andrej Meszaros tore his achilles while training in Slovakia.
After a surgical repair, he could miss most of the upcoming season.
Timelines are difficult to pin down, with setbacks and revisions a
relative part of any athlete's recovery, so we really don't know when
we'll see Andrej the Giant on patrolling the blue line again. 

There's no silver lining in significant injury news.
This obviously sucks. However, the timing could be worse. In fact, the
timing of Meszaros' last injury was. Below the jump, we go in search of a
bright side, if there is any to be found. 

In March of last season, Meszaros required surgery to remove disc fragments in his back. He missed a few weeks of the regular season and all but one game of
the playoffs. Paul Holmgren did what we could to insure against
defensive injuries by adding Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina before the
deadline, with Grossmann in particular helping to keep the back end
moderately stable while himself battling some knee issues after Joe
Vitale went hunting in the prelude to the playoffs
.

Free agent options to fill Meszaros' spot are
limited at this point. Carlo Colaiacovo appears to be the favorite if
the Flyers go this route. Even if the injury had come before the market
opened, there may not have been much more Paul Holmgren could have done.
He traded JVR for Luke Schenn. He put $100 million on the table for
Ryan Suter. He put more than that in an offer sheet for Shea Weber.
Homer was working nearly every angle possible to bring more defensive
help to the Flyers, short of retaining Matt Carle, who took a lucrative
deal as the Flyers looked at better options. 

For two reasons, the timing of this injury isn't so
bad. Yes, it means Meszaros won't suit up for most if not all of the
upcoming regular season—maybe longer—and that prospect is certainly
bleak. But at least the Flyers know well before the campaign starts what
they're up against, rather than dealing with the loss after the trade
deadline, just before the playoffs, or in the middle of the opening
round. 

We're all big hockey fans, and we'll watch anything
from a skate-around to a mid-February game against the Panthers and look
for what's great about it. But with 16 teams making the cut for a
two-month playoffs, a mark the Flyers rarely miss, the games taking place
between early October and early April constitute a long battle of
attrition that has more to do with enjoyment of the sport and gate/TV
revenues than who will ultimately be champions. Ask the 8th seeded LA
Kings. Sure, the vital chemistry built during this time is huge for the
team that ultimately wins it all, but it's rarely mentioned for the
teams that don't. 

The injuries that matter most when it comes time for
deciding who will go deep into the playoffs or raise a Cup are those
that derail a contender's chances by sidelining key players in the
spring. With the strong potential for a shortened season due to labor
disputes, the next postseason seems even farther away than usual, though it actually isn't. Still, the
Flyers have time to develop a gameplan to bolster their defense, be it
via trade, another minor signing or two, or just waiting to see what
they have in their young bodies. While they have some depth to
temporarily fill the third pairing, things get downright scary when
injury strikes any other defenseman, which is not unlikely given the
nature of the game, age of Kimmo Timonen, and history of others like
Grossmann. The Fly-toms group likely isn't ready to make the jump to
extended top-4 minutes. 

I mean, watch as the usually effusive Homer tries to bridle the enthusiasm he has for the youngsters!

In all seriousness, there are some young blueliners
worth a longer look, including Marc-Andre Bourdon, who got a new deal
yesterday. And, once the season opens, the team will start to get a
better idea of what Schenn brings to the table. Will he re-emerge as a
top-4 guy? Right now, they'll need him to. Can the young guys develop
quickly? Or will more minutes expose them? Either way, if things aren't
working out, Homer will likely know well before the next trade deadline
just how badly he needs help (if he hasn't dealt for it already). He'll
also know better what he can afford to trade away if needs arise. 

We know Homer was already looking to get better on
defense before the Meszaros injury, so it's unlikely he's suddenly OK
with the situation. Now, with one fewer bona fide top-4ish NHL
defenseman fewer than when he opened the war chest last month, Homer
will likely be back to work, if he'd even stopped at all. The downside
here is, there may be more likelihood of overpayment. Where before
certain players were untouchable even in exchange for blue-chip talent,
there may be more desperation now. There probably shouldn't be, given
how much time there is between now and the postseason.

Of course, there are a few other things working against
Homer with the timing of this injury too. First, the uncertain labor
situation slowed the off-season to a crawl. While a delayed start could
give the Flyers fewer games over which to manage the loss of Meszaros,
uncertainty could be slowing the market. Other teams who don't have
mid-summer injuries emerging may not be as interested in dealing right
now, and free agency and the value of current contracts seem less
certain with a new CBA being hammered out. And, importantly, if Homer
does manage a deal that brings a steady defenseman to Philly, that player will
bring a cap hit with him. The uncertainty as to when Meszaros returns
and a $4 million cap hit of his own from LTIR makes long-term planning
difficult. I've referred to "uncertainty" a lot in this paragraph, and
not because I lack a thesaurus. It's a major obstacle in the way of
Homer's planning. 

Finally, whenever the season starts, there is
obviously still plenty of time for new injuries to other players to set
in at more critical junctures. Meszaros' return for the playoffs is far
from certain, what with all the infections and Roll-A-Bout accidents
we've come to learn are par for the course with this particular injury.
So again, we're not talking about there being an actual advantage to any
of this. But it's possible the Meszaros injury will have little impact
on the truly meaningful games played in the postseason—as long as he
recovers, rehabs, and is back at game strength by then, and/or Holmgren
makes a savvy move he may have been on the fence about before losing Big
Mesz.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

Phillies (26-21) at Cubs (31-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

After their having their second straight Thursday off, the Phillies open up a challenging three-game weekend series Friday afternoon against the Cubs, owners of the majors' best record.

Let's take a look at what to expect:

1. Best in the bigs
The Cubs are three games better than any team in baseball. Their run differential of plus-119 is 47 better than the next-best team. They've scored the most third-most runs (256) and allowed just 137, which is 12 fewer than any other club.

With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs probably have the deepest starting rotation in baseball. 

With Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell, they have the National League's top offense.

With guys like Tommy La Stella, Matt Szczur and David Ross making key contributions, they have one of the best benches in baseball.

There is no real weakness with this team. Even the mostly anonymous bullpen has been among the game's best, posting a 3.09 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 122⅓ innings.

This is, however, the right time to be playing the Cubs. Chicago is 4-6 in its last 10 games and 6-8 in its last 14. The Cubs did appear to get back on track by beating the Cardinals in the final two games of a nine-game road trip that ended Wednesday.

At Wrigley, the Cubs are 14-6. They've lost two home series this season to the Padres and Rockies.

2. Cool Lester Smooth
Props if you get The Wire reference.

The Phillies open the series against left-hander Jon Lester, who is 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA this season but is coming off his worst start. Lester allowed five runs in just 2⅔ innings in last weekend's loss at San Francisco.

Aside from that, he's enjoyed another very good season. The 32-year-old joined the Cubs in free agency prior to last season on a six-year, $155 million deal, and has gone 15-15 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 41 starts with Chicago. He's struck out 259 batters in 260⅓ innings.

The Phillies have faced Lester six times — five when he was with the Red Sox — and they've never beaten him. He's 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA against them and has allowed just 30 hits in 41 innings. He's gone seven innings in five of the six starts.

Lester's repertoire has remained consistent through the years. He throws mostly four-seam fastballs, cutters and curveballs. He'll also mix in sinkers and changeups, but 85 percent of his pitches this season have been four-seamers, cutters and curves.

Lester's cutter is his great equalizer against right-handed hitters, who have hit .240 against him the last four seasons. He can back-door it, starting it outside and having it break back over the outside corner, or start it over the middle and have it break in to jam a righty.

Current Phillies are 10 for 55 (.182) against Lester with two walks and 18 strikeouts. Ryan Howard and Freddy Galvis have each homered off him. Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 11, Cameron Rupp is 0 for 3 and Maikel Franco is 0 for 6. Odubel Herrera has never faced him.

3. Tommy time
Facing a lefty means an automatic start for Tommy Joseph at first base. Joseph went 4 for 11 in the Tigers series with a double and a homer, hitting the ball hard even when he made outs. 

What will be interesting is how Pete Mackanin uses Joseph the rest of the series. The Phillies will face right-handers on Saturday and Sunday in Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Only once since Joseph came up from Triple A has he started against a right-hander in place of Howard. Joseph faced two righties in the Tigers series, but Howard was the designated hitter. The only game in which Joseph replaced Howard at first base against a right-hander was last Sunday in the Phils' win over Casey Kelly and the Braves.

Joseph hit .324 with seven extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers at Triple A this season, and is 4 for 18 (.222) with a double and a homer against them with the Phils. Both extra-base hits came Monday off Mike Pelfrey.

Here's the Phillies' lineup Friday:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Adam Morgan, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

4. Morgan's command must be perfect
It's the same thing every time Adam Morgan takes the mound but it's especially true this afternoon: He needs to throw quality strikes early in counts and command his fastball nearly flawlessly on the inside and outside corners.

Morgan (1-2, 5.61) is coming off a decent start against the Braves in which he allowed two runs over six innings. But the Braves and Cubs are about as different as two offenses can be. 

Morgan held lefties last season to a .225 batting average, but this year they're 8 for 26 (.308) against him with two doubles and a homer. He's not the kind of lefty who makes it uncomfortable for a same-handed hitter, so look for Rizzo and Heyward to stay in the lineup Friday.

Morgan faced the Cubs last season and allowed four runs in five innings in a loss. Fowler, Heyward and Javier Baez all had multi-hit games against him.

5. Model for success?
The Cubs endured several years of losing during their own rebuild and have emerged as one of the most talented teams in recent years. It took a little luck along the way. The Astros drafted Mark Appel first overall and left Kris Bryant at No. 2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took advantage of a rare win-now move from Billy Beane in trading a half-season of Jeff Samardzija and Hammel for Russell. 

But the Cubs also identified Kyle Schwarber (out for the season, but a very good young hitter) and drafted him higher than most analysts predicted he'd go. They found lights-out closer Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. They clearly won the 1-for-1 swap of Andrew Cashner for Rizzo. Most importantly, they bought low on a highly-touted Arrieta, who was struggling with the Orioles before emerging into one of the three-best starting pitchers in the majors.

And when the prospects began graduating to the majors, the Cubs did what the Phillies will likely do in a year or two: They spent. 

As much as everyone loves to talk about Chicago's young talent, they also spent $184 million on Heyward, $155 million on Lester, $56 million on Zobrist and $60 million on catcher Miguel Montero. They filled in their roster with veterans who fit the plan, and it's allowed them to continue to ease in guys like Baez and Jorge Soler.

It would take a ton of breaks for the Phillies to be as exciting or as successful a team as the Cubs in a few years, but Chicago has shown that this model can work in a major market.

In aggressive D, Mike Martin trying to show Eagles his worth

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In aggressive D, Mike Martin trying to show Eagles his worth

When Ray Horton brought his two-gapping 3-4 defense to the Tennessee Titans in 2014, Mike Martin wasn’t thrilled. 

After all, the former third-round defensive tackle thought he was at his best in an aggressive get-up-the-field type defense, not the one full of lateral motion that Horton established in Tennessee. 

But without recourse, Martin played out the last two seasons of his rookie deal in Horton’s defense, before joining the Eagles in free agency this offseason. 

“That’s something that I was kind of disappointed in Tennessee when we were playing that, but you gotta adjust,” Martin said this week. “That’s this game. Coaches switch and you have to be able to change to stay in this game. But to be back in a system like this, excites me a lot.”

Martin, 25, admitted part of the reason he joined the Eagles was the opportunity based on the lack of depth the team had at his position, but an even bigger reason was the opportunity to play in Jim Schwartz’s downhill scheme. 

Really, it’s the main reason the 6-1, 306-pound interior defensive lineman decided to sign a one-year deal to join the Eagles in April. 

“I already knew what they were all about and then when I got to see what type of scheme they were bringing in and what Coach Schwartz wanted to emphasize, with getting off the ball and getting to our landmarks and things like that, really excited me and solidified it for me, because I know I can flourish in a system like that.”

In fact, Martin thinks he fits best in the kind of defense the Eagles will run this year. 

“Oh yeah. Oh yeah,” Martin said. “My quickness and my get-off and the type of player I am, it suits me well, so it’s exciting.”

Martin came to Philadelphia because of the defensive scheme, but he already knows a couple players on the team. Martin played at Michigan with Brandon Graham; the two have been good friends ever since. And Vinny Curry was Martin’s roommate at the Senior Bowl back in 2012. 

This offseason, as Fletcher Cox stays away from the Eagles’ spring practices while he awaits a new contract, other guys are getting extended reps. One of those guys is Martin. While Taylor Hart lined up next to Bennie Logan on the first-team defense last Tuesday, it was Martin next to him this week during the practice open to the media. 

Martin said he’s been sporadically working with the first unit and has been switching sides with Logan too. 

Eventually, Cox will return and reclaim his rightful spot as the starter and Martin will be sent back to his spot in the depth chart with the likes of Hart, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao and Connor Wujciak. 

In the meantime, Martin is just focused on showing his coaches as much as he possibly can, which isn’t very easy in May. During these practices players aren’t in pads and the hitting won’t start until training camp — even then, it’s limited. 

Still, Martin thinks he can show something over the next few weeks. 

“Really, I’m just trying to focus on my hands because we’re not allowed to have a lot of contact,” he said. “If I’m good with my hands, I can show them how I can move in this defense. I think that’s something that they can see and you can’t really deny. I’m just going to continue to improve and show them those things. When it comes time to put the pads on, it will just translate.”

I know I’m supposed to love Russell Westbrook, but I don’t love Russell Westbrook

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USA Today Sports

I know I’m supposed to love Russell Westbrook, but I don’t love Russell Westbrook

Look, let’s get one thing clear right off the bat. I love watching Russell Westbrook play basketball. The dude is bonkers. Flying around the court with reckless abandon. Tomahawk rams on people’s necks. Pogo-stick pull-ups on the fast break where he just rises up on a dime like Guo Jingjing (she’s a Chinese diver, I looked her up) bouncing off a springboard, setting himself up to hit a Triple Lindy in an opponent’s eyeball. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He could be the first person in the history of the NBA to successfully complete a flip dunk (although it could be argued that Zach LaVine is the odds-on favorite, or this dude I saw on the corner of 16th and Shunk last weekend all hopped up on mescaline). Either way, Russ is a beast, and I’m totally convinced that his anger and aggression is the only thing keeping PJ Carlesimo out of the NBA coaching ranks. He’s rugged. He’s tenacious. He just seems like a bit of a shithead. 

I have never actually met Russell Westbrook. He could be a totally nice guy. KD certainly seems to think so. And despite the fact that I’m a world famous local celebrity, and could easily use my status to get a media credential for an OKC-Sixers game, or even the Western Conference Finals, and potentially meet Russ in person to find out what he’s all about, I haven’t. So my opinions of Russ comes from the exact same place as yours do, from my couch. This entire blogpost is just speculation based on his piss-poor body language and his butthead actions on and off the court. I wish I could root for him. I really do. I just can’t. Which is shocking because I grew up idolizing King Kong Bundy, and later married a woman with a major, major, major attitude problem. 

Let’s get into it. 

From the moment Russ first shows up to the arena, he struts in looking less like Dominique Wilkins and more like Dom DeLuise. With the bandanas and the berets and all the cute little outfits. And that’s fine, because honestly who cares how you dress. He’s young. He’s just trying to express himself. I get it. I mean, even as I’m writing this, I’m wearing a shirt that says “Cracklin Oat Bran is for Hustlas.” But there’s just something about his air of nonchalance that conflicts with his obvious craving of attention. And what image is he going for anyway? One day he’s rocking a Slayer t-shirt. The next he’s wearing overalls like Mario and Luigi. Not that a Slayer fan doesn’t love playing Super Mario Bros., it just doesn’t seem genuine. Plus, the sheer fact that he’s from Los Angeles only adds to his layer of ugh’ness. It’s like, enough with these LA dudes already — James Harden (we get it), Swaggy P (barf) — guys that grew up in that red carpet culture of “Hey look at me I’m different I’m crazy I eat avocados.” But whatever, ultimately, like I said, it doesn’t freaking matter. I don’t really care, and this is by far my weakest argument I’ll have in this post. I’m not really sure why I decided to start off with it in the first place. Russ is just annoying. Plain and simple. Just put on a belt, bro. You’re an adult. 

Then there’s that whole nightly tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein that he puts on before every game with his little mushroom-headed dance partner, Cameron Payne. What is that cornball isht? It’s not even good dancing. They’re just like, flailing their arms around like idiots. Plus, what the freak are they doing?! Dancing in and of itself is not very masculine. And I know, I know, in this day and age, God forbid you do anything macho, but this is sports afterall, this is basketball, and there is still some sense of ruggedness that is appreciated on the hardwood (boner joke). I’m not a Dane Cook guy (and let me repeat myself for all of you who may be skimming this part of the post, I am NOT a Dane Cook guy), but he does a pretty funny bit on how you will never hear a group of dudes gather together on a Friday night and say, “You know what I want to do tonight? I wanna dance. I just wanna express myself through the art of dance.” That doesn’t happen. I’m not knocking dancing. It has its place in this world. Like, at weddings and celebrations. Or in your kitchen while you’re doing the dishes and listening to Whitney Houston. Or in the basement of some disgusting fraternity house while you try to impregnate every woman you meet. It just doesn’t have a place in NBA pregame warmups. I don’t need to watch Big Bad Russ and Coochie Coo Cam Can doin’ the Tennessee Twinkle Step. Just rub some baby powder on your balls and get it poppin. That worked for Dolph Schayes. 

I appreciate Charlie Villanueva trying to step in there a few weeks go to shut it all down, but c’mon Chucky V, we know you’re not really #bout #dat #lyfe. You’re a big softee at heart. I know this because I follow both you and your lovely wife on Instagram and I have NEVER seen two people who are more in love. Poor Charlie. Russ clowned him both in the moment and later at the postgame press conference. It’s a shame Charles Oakley is no longer in the league. Or Rodney Rodgers. Those dudes woulda put an end to this Derek Hough nonsense IMMEDIATELY if not sooner. For the record, I always thought Rodney Rogers would’ve dominated if the NBA were to ever hold a Royal Rumble. Sad that he ended up the way he did. Damn shame what they did to that dog. 

Once the game starts, Russ gets shot out of a cannon (in a good way!), but God forbid you lay a finger on him or he’ll scowl at the referee like he shot his dog. And I know, everyone yells at the refs these days. It’s horrible. Even the golden unicorn himself, Tim Duncan, acts like a total p.o.s. when he’s called for a whistle. But there’s just something inherently nasty about the way Russ berates an official. Like, I don’t think Westbrook ever goes up to Leon Wood after the game and is like, “Oh, hey Lee-Lee. Sorry I was barking at you all night. I get kinda worked up and lose perspective sometimes. I’m sorry, Duke.” No, instead he just yells at some OKC public relations intern to fetch him some more fettuccini alfredo. 

HEAT THIS UP, MELVIN. 

THE CHEESE IS STARTING TO CONGEAL.

Once again, I have no idea what I’m talking about, and have no idea if any of this is true. I’m just speculating purely on my Jewish intuition. 

Then there was the time Russ yelled at those poor idiots sitting in the front row in Dallas, telling a guy to “just sit there with your wife and shut the [eff] up.” 

And I know, fans are friggin’ annoying. I mean, look at me. I’m spending 1,600 words ripping a guy who I legitimately do not know. It’s just like, we get it, Russell, you’re angry. And Russell’s anger is just really, really angry. And the weird thing is, I normally like angry! Matt Barnes. Metta World Peace. Da Black Mamba. But at least those dudes had a sense of humor about themselves. Well, maybe not Barnes, but Metta and the Kobester are definitely aware that they are complete and total maniacs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Russell smile. He acts as if every human being is always out to get him. And that’s probably what drives him. That’s probably what makes him such a warrior on the court. But calm down, dude. Show some semblance of human personality for once in your life. Just once!

It’s sad, because outside of Westbrook (and Cam Payne, and Dion Waiters, and Kyle Singler’s hair), the Thunder have a pretty likable team -- KD, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, ENES KANTER THA GAWD, even Anthony Morrow and his buttermilk jumpshot -- but I can’t possibly root for them in the Finals. 

Can I?

The alternative is to pull for LeBron and the Cavs, another incredibly polarizing figure. And I’ll admit, LeBron has his faults: the weird pettiness with Kyrie on Twitter, being a blatant jerk to David Blatt, getting David Blatt publicly burned at the stake, like, legitimately getting that dude fired despite the fact that they got to the Finals without Kevin Love and Kyrie last year, and were first in the East when he was fired this year. But ultimately, I think LeBron’s a good dude. His teammates love him. He was absolutely fantastic in Trainwreck. And he is an absolute F-lord who has demolished pretty much everything the NBA has put in his path. I mean, the guy wants to bring a title to Cleveland. CLEVE-LAND. Have you been to Cleveland? It’s a cesspool. It’s an urban pool of cess. 

So look, love Russ. Hate Russ. Love LeBronski. Hate LeBronski. It doesn’t matter to me. But there’s just something about Russ that rubs me the wrong way. I appreciate his talents. I appreciate his desire. I know no one is perfect. Charles Barkley. Latrell Sprewell. Tom Brady. Literally any human being who has ever walked the earth. But I also know that there’s a way I like my human beings to carry themselves on and off the court. I know that when it comes down to ultimately liking and pulling for people -- Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Elle McPherson, Barack Obama, Kim Kardash, Donald Trump, Bobcat Goldwaithe -- that personality counts for a whole lot more than you think. 

So go ahead, Russ. Keep entering the arena with that smug look on your face. Keep dunking on people’s necks. Keep whining at officials and barking at fans and doing the Chattanooga Choo Choo with your little rinky-dink dance buddy. 

I love watching it all. You are wildly entertaining. And I can’t wait til Kyrie puts you on skates. 

(Or, y’know, Golden State comes back and renders these last few paragraphs meaningless.)