MATCHDAY: Jack Mac is Back as Union Host Portland Tonight

MATCHDAY: Jack Mac is Back as Union Host Portland Tonight

This is Timber Joey. Yes, he's a real thing. I couldn't make this up.

That guy over there is Timber Joey. He is -- quite literally -- the Portland Timbers' mascot. He stands in front of the supporters section at home games and slices off a piece of that huge log for every Portland goal. Timbers fans then toast him with organic fermented tofu beer made with non-flourinated water.

Seriously though, Portland is a really good team (and they provided the feel-good moment of the sports year so far).

The Timbers make just their second-ever visit to PPL Park tonight (0-0 draw in September, 2011) for a huge game against the Union (7:30 p.m. -- Comcast SportsNet). Philly's should-be-All-Star Jack McInerney returns to action after being released from U.S. National Team duty at the Gold Cup.

Plus, there's post-game fireworks. And Timber Joey won't be there. If I can't bring a bottle of water into PPL, I'm pretty sure he can't bring that chainsaw.

Here's the funny part about tonight's game: Everyone loves to point at the Timbers as one of the top teams in the league -- which they are. But should the Union win tonight, they would have 33 points -- the same as Portland.

With McInerney back in the fold, we should see him start again up top with Conor Casey, pushing Sebastien Le Toux back into more of the wide role he has excelled in this season. With Casey red-hot (five goals in six games), McInerney well-rested yet in shape, and Le Toux rolling along, it's not the offense I'm worried about tonight (not something I ever thought I'd say about the Union), despite Portland's stout defense (0.95 goals allowed per game -- second best in MLS).

The Union defense will have plenty to contend with, however. Until a recent loss to Columbus, Portland had run off 15 straight games without a loss, and have more than a few creative players up front who will challenge the Union backline. If you've never seen Darlington Nagbe play (and unless you stay up late and watch MLS on TV, you haven't), you should be in for a treat. He makes plenty of mistakes, but most are caused when a creative piece of skill doesn't quite go as planned.

Then he scores goals like this one in 2011.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/2naoSiNRQ1w service=youtube width=590 height=332]

In all reality, a home draw against a team like this wouldn't be too devastating. But after recently dropping four points against Dallas and Salt Lake while settling for draws instead of seizing victory, the Union can't afford to give away points at home.

Tonight's Game:

Philadelphia Union (8-6-6, 30 points) vs. Portland Timbers (8-2-9, 33 points) -- 7:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet

Prediction Sure To Be Way Off:

It's a good weekend and I only have a few days of work left before vacation. I'm optimistic.

Union 2, Timbers 1.

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

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Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

BOX SCORE

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Darnell Foreman scored 15 points with four assists, Matt Howard added 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Penn used a big second-half run to beat Yale 71-55 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

AJ Brodeur had 12 points with nine rebounds, Ryan Betley also scored 12, and Devon Goodman had 11 for the Quakers (11-12, 4-6 Ivy League), who won their fourth straight game and moved into a fourth-place tie with Columbia in the conference standings. The top four teams will play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, March 11-12, at The Palestra.

Goodman's layup off a steal capped a 17-3 run as Penn extended a 31-30 halftime lead to 48-33 at 14:39 in the second half. Howard hit two 3s in the run and Foreman added a third. Goodman hit a 3, Foreman followed with a layup and the Quakers led by 20, 62-42, with 6:17 left and held on.

Penn shot 50.9 percent from the field to Yale's 32.8 percent and made 9 of 23 from behind the arc to the Bulldogs' 6 of 28.

Miye Oni scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Yale (14-9, 6-4), which entered the game in third place behind Harvard and Princeton.