MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

More than any team in this town, aside from probably
the Eagles, Union games have become an all-out event for most fans.

There is very little “going to the game.” 
By that I mean the guy who says, “Eh, I’m going to the game,” 
then heads out the door, parks his car and finds his seat.

Plans are made well ahead of time, themed tailgates
are created (I plan on crashing one of these in Lot A – stop
by and say hi), supplies are purchased and entire schedules are altered.

Off the top of my head, via my Union fan-heavy Twitter
feed, I can think of fans who travel for most or all Union games from
the following locations: Central Pennsylvania, Long Island, Maryland,
Delaware, Allentown, North Jersey, the Poconos and Rhode Island. Yes,
Rhode Island.

Unlike Eagles tailgates – which can often feel exactly
like the macho, beer-chugging, fist-fighting stereotype Bradley Cooper
made famous in Silver Linings playbook – the lots at PPL are very
family friendly.

So this is my one and only request that before you
rip the sport for being stupid, the team for being amateur, the league
for being sub-par or the fans for being weird, find a few friends and
plan a tailgate. Or better yet, park your car, whip out a case of beer,
and share it with the group parked next to you.

While you’re there, maybe watch a soccer game.

* * *

Hoping to keep the gameday posts relatively light
this year. A few predictions, a few facts. We’ll save the analysis
for midweek. Today you get the added benefit of some season-long predictions
sure to fail.

So without further ado.

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (0-0-0, 0 pts) vs. Sporting Kansas
City (0-0-0, 0 pts)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: 6ABC

Today’s Opponent, in Limerick Form:

There once was a team called the Wiz

With the worst
uniforms in the biz

They changed their name to sound Euro

Now their style is anything but a bore-o

Their goalie sorta looks like The Miz

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

The Sons of Ben will mock goalie Jimmy Nielsen (they’re
chanting “BRIG-ITTE NIELSEN”) and might even sing a
song about manager Peter Vermes’ DUI arrest
. But
make no mistake, this is a VERY good team.

Despite losing Kei Kamara to Norwich City of the English
Premier League, Sporting KC is solid on both ends. They attempted more
shots than any team in MLS last year (granted, Kamara led the league
in that category) and midfielder Graham Zusi is one of the few MLS players
who is considered for a United States starting lineup when a full-strength
roster is available.

Nielsen is still one of the league’s better goalies,
and 2012 all-star Aurelien Collin proved to be one of its most efficient
central defenders. The addition of Ike Opara from San Jose only further
bolsters the backline.

In so many words, while Union fans will want a win
on Saturday when they think with their hearts, bu they should gladly
take a draw if using their heads.

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City (from visitkc.com):

“KC ignored Prohibition during the 1920s, leading
to an abundance of jazz clubs, brothels and gambling halls. This earned
KC the moniker ‘The Paris of the Plains’ after one journalist wrote
‘If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and head to Kansas City.’

The Player Most Likely to “Doop”

Since Union goals are now more rare than Red Bull
sellouts, Rev’s “Player Most Likely to See Red” will be adjusted,
at least until the Union score more often than not. (Although Saturday’s
official is Mark Geiger, who may hand out a card before the national
anthem).

I’m going to go with the obvious choice, Sebastien
Le Toux. The ovation he will get Saturday will be something to remember,
and the Frenchman has a flair for the dramatic (see: hat trick
in first-ever Union home game at the Linc
).

Lineup We Might See:

Macmath

Williams – Parke – Soumare – G. Farfan

Cruz – Carroll
– Okugo

         
M. Farfan – Casey – Le Toux

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I think the Union come out flying and get the first
goal as they open their season at home for the first time, before Sporting
gets a second-half equalizer. I’ll be generous and predict that’s
all they get.

Union 1, Sporting K.C. 1

BONUS Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

It’s hard to know what to expect from this team.
I think they will be more cohesive and more offensive-minded, but Hackworth
must find a semi-regular lineup he can count on.

I predict 47 points and at least a chance at a playoff
berth as October nears.

In these parts, that might be seen as something to
build on.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117.

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

Best of MLB: Beltre's 2 home runs lift Rangers over A's

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre hit his second home run of the game with two outs in the ninth inning, a two-run shot that rallied the Texas Rangers past the Oakland Athletics 7-6 on Monday night for their third straight win.

Beltre, who finished with four hits, had two singles in his first three at-bats before hitting a solo homer in the seventh. His game-winning drive came on the first pitch from Ryan Madson (3-4).

Until then, Texas had trailed since Danny Valencia hit a two-run homer for Oakland with two outs in the first. All 13 runs in the game were scored with two outs.

Texas turned three double plays behind starter Martin Perez, who has induced a major league-best 25 in 21 games.

Valencia also had the first of three run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that gave the A's a 5-1 lead (see full recap).

Blue Jays' Sanchez wins 10th straight decision
TORONTO  -- Aaron Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings to win his 10th consecutive decision, Kevin Pillar had three hits and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the San Diego Padres 4-2 on Monday night.

Sanchez (11-1) became the first Blue Jays pitcher to win 10 straight since Roy Halladay won 15 decisions in a row in 2003. Halladay and Roger Clemens (1998) hold the club record.

Making their first appearance in Toronto, the Padres were held scoreless until Alex Dickerson hit a two-run homer off Bo Schultz in the ninth.

Dickeerson's drive into the fifth deck extended San Diego's team-record streak of games with at least one home run to 23. The 2006 Atlanta Braves were the last National League team to homer in 23 straight games.

Roberto Osuna replaced Schultz and got two outs for his 21st save (see full recap).

Orioles top Rockies for 5th straight win
BALTIMORE -- Adam Jones scored the winning run in the 10th inning on a low throw to the plate by pitcher Jordan Lyles, and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 on Monday night for their fifth straight victory.

Jones reached on a one-out single off the third-base bag and took third on a single by Jonathan Schoop. Manny Machado followed with a comebacker to Lyles, who fumbled the ball before throwing home. Catcher Nick Hundley caught the ball near the ground and lost the handle while attempting to tag the sliding Jones.

Lyles (2-3) was charged with an error on the play.

Getting two RBIs from Jones, the Orioles climbed a season-high 18 games over .500 (58-40) and improved to 37-14 at home.

Chaz Roe (1-0) worked the 10th for the win (see full recap).

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

Trade candidates — especially Jeremy Hellickson — lead Phils to shutout of Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson was standing in front of his locker speaking with reporters after his second strong outing in a week against the Miami Marlins when Cameron Rupp walked by an offered his take on all the trade talk surrounding the veteran pitcher.

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rupp said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

Hellickson laughed at his catcher’s commentary.

“I hope not,” he said.

If Hellickson really wants to stay with the Phillies and finish out this rebuilding season instead of moving to a contender for the final two months — and possibly beyond — he did himself a disservice Monday night.

He enhanced his attractiveness to potential buyers by pitching six shutout innings in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Hellickson, who sports a 3.65 ERA in 21 starts, needed just 70 pitches to get through the six innings. He was lifted for a pinch-hitter with runners on second and third and two outs in a scoreless game in the top of the seventh. Ryan Howard struck out, following Cody Asche and Peter Bourjos, as the Phillies whiffed on a golden scoring chance.

“I hated taking Hellickson out of the game there, but we had an opportunity to score and I had to go for it,” manager Pete Mackanin said.

“After we didn’t score, I didn’t think we had a chance to win this game. I just thought that with their bullpen we were in trouble.”

The Phillies ended up winning with a rally against Miami’s bullpen. Tommy Joseph delivered a clutch, two-out double against Fernando Rodney in the eighth to score Maikel Franco from first. That was the only run the Phillies needed. They tacked on three against the sloppy Marlins in the ninth to finish it off.

Hellickson, David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez then combined to allow just one base runner in three innings to finish off the Phillies’ 11th shutout of the season. That’s the most in the majors.

“Our bullpen did a great job,” Mackanin said.

Three of the four pitchers that the Phillies used in the game — Hellickson, Hernandez and Gomez — are very much available for trades. They all pitched well with a gaggle of scouts sitting behind the backstop. A number of contending clubs — the Cubs, Orioles, Giants, Rangers and Blue Jays — had scouts at the game. Pitching, starting and relief, is high on the needs list for most of those teams.

Of course, the Marlins are looking for pitching, too. They have interest in Hellickson, though it’s not clear whether he is a top target of theirs. Maybe he will become a top target after what he’s done to the Marlins in the last week. Hellickson has pitched 14 innings over two starts against the Marlins. He has given up just six hits and a run.

“Just executing,” said the pitcher, explaining his success. “In my last two games the ball has been down for the most part. I’ve just gotten a lot of easy outs. The ball's down and not missing too many spots right now.”

Hellickson will be a free agent this winter and does not appear to be in the club’s future plan. Nonetheless, he has steadfastly said he would like to remain with the club for the rest of this season. Phillies management is not opposed to keeping Hellickson. He provides veteran stability and innings to a young rotation. But management would move Hellickson for a player that has the potential to help in the future.

Trade rumors can be distracting for a player. But Hellickson, who has been dealt twice in his career, is locked in.

“It doesn't bother me,” he said. “Once I'm in this locker room — obviously you still see it on TV and stuff — my focus is on helping us win today. Now it's on to the next start. It's been like this for a few years now so it's pretty easy to go out there right now.”

Mackanin said he had no idea what will become of Hellickson’s fate. But if the pitcher stays, he won’t complain.

“At this point, I don’t want to lose him,” Mackanin said. “I wish he could stay here. He’s that solid for us. He’s been like that the whole year.”

The Phillies needed a good pitching effort to pull this one out. Their hitters struck out 13 times, left 11 men on base and went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.

“We don’t show plate discipline,” Mackanin lamented. “We’re taking fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches. If you’re going to take fastballs early in the count that are hittable pitches, you cannot swing at breaking balls in the dirt. That’s all I can say about that. We have to have more plate discipline.”

On the positive side of that, Franco and Rupp both walked three times, and Franco’s two-out walk in the eighth became the biggest run of the game on a night when Jeremy Hellickson and his status with the Phillies was the biggest storyline.

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Marlins 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jeremy Hellickson continued to enhance his trade value and Tommy Joseph had the big hit in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

Hellickson shut down the Marlins for the second time in a week. The next time he pitches, it could be for them. The Marlins are one of the teams interested in the veteran right-hander. Scouts from several other contending teams were in attendance for Hellickson’s strong outing.

Joseph’s two-out double in the top of the eighth broke a scoreless tie.

Phillies pitching held the Marlins to two hits. The Phils have 11 shutouts this season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and gave up just a hit and a walk while striking out one. He exited for a pinch-hitter after just 70 pitches. The right-hander has pitched 14 innings and allowed just one run in his last two starts, both against the Marlins. He has lowered his season ERA to 3.65.

Miami’s Jarred Cosart came up from Triple A and pitched five scoreless innings. However, he threw 92 pitches. He allowed three hits, a walk and struck out one.

Bullpen report 
Trade candidate David Hernandez pitched a strong seventh inning for the Phils, picking up the win. Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out.

Miami right-hander Kyle Barraclough came up big in the top of the seventh inning. He struck out Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and pinch-hitter Ryan Howard with runners on second and third to preserve a 0-0 tie.

Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the first two batters in the eighth then gave up a four-pitch walk to Maikel Franco before Joseph’s two-out double delivered the game’s first run.

Rodney took the loss.

A.J. Ramos was charged with three runs in the ninth, two unearned.

At the plate
The Phillies survived 13 strikeouts, a 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base to score the win.

The Phils had just six hits. Joseph had a pair of them and now has 25 RBIs in 54 games.

Cesar Hernandez gave the Phils some cushion with an RBI single in the top of the ninth. Miami’s defense fell apart after that and the Phils scored two more runs to put the game away.

Asche had a hit to break an 0-for-26 skid. Bourjos is 0 for his last 17.

Trade talk
Andres Blanco is out for six weeks so he’s no longer a trade candidate, but others are (see story).

Up next
Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) pitches against Miami right-hander Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42) on Tuesday night. Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in beating the Phillies last week at Citizens Bank Park.