Temple-Ball State: I Get Angry Edition

Temple-Ball State: I Get Angry Edition

The Temple Owls have exited the toughest part of their 2011 calendar. With Penn State, Maryland and Toledo all in the past, Temple is set to enter the meat of its MAC schedule, and hopefully rack up its fair share of wins before taking on traditionally difficult opponents Ohio and Miami (OH) in early November, opponents that could swing the team's bowl hopes one way or the other.

Saturday, the Owls (3-2, 1-1) are on the road in Muncie, Indiana to take on the Ball State Cardinals (3-2, 1-0). Kick off is scheduled for 2 p.m. The game can be heard on 1210 AM and watched on the All-MACcess Webstream at MAC-sports.com.

I'm now about to go on an angry rant where I make questionable generalizations that aren't really all that off-base. Join me, won't you?

It seems like every time the Owls take a step forward, they take two back. And, you know, that extra step back, it isn't their fault.

Frankly, it's yours. I blame you.

Though the announced attendance for the Toledo game was indeed over 20,000, its tough to believe there were that many people in the stadium. More than likely, the number was pushed higher as a result of tickets sold through the school's creative ticket packaging, and not by people actually in the seats.

So even when the team starts out 2-0, nearly defeats Penn State, goes on to roll Maryland on the road, and offers you a $5 admission merely for showing up with a smile on your face, you don't come.

And then when they lose to a Toledo team you don't consider talented because you have only a passing or highly jaded interest in college football, you get to complain about how the Owls are again over-hyped and still a lousy program.

It's one thing for Temple to take a step back because it lost, but its another to take an additional step back because every loss is somehow endemic of its status as "less than worthy."

The Owls are currently favored by anywhere from 9.5-10. I want them to cover by 20. Forget that, I want them to cover by 50.

But chances are, by no matter how much they may win—or, hell, even lose—you're still not going to care—unless, of course, you're showing up just to put the program "back in its place." And this is all because Temple has a losing history, got kicked out of the Big East, and now plays in the MAC. And you don't care about the MAC. Even though teams like Toledo, and believe it or not, even the Ball State Cardinals, are every bit as good as some of what's in the Big 10 this year.

It's just a shame you'll never admit it.

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.