Wait a Minute, the Union Could Finish the Weekend in First Place!

Wait a Minute, the Union Could Finish the Weekend in First Place!

If you’ve been following The 700 Level over the past couple of days, you’ve seen Steve Moore’s excellent writeups on how Philly fans can pick an English Premier League to root for. (If you haven’t, stop reading this and go do that immediately.)

Honestly, it’s hard not to get excited for the start of the English Premier League, which is undoubtedly one of the best leagues in the world, in any sport. But as the EPL season is about to begin, the MLS season is finally kinda sorta winding down as a little more than two months remain. And here’s one aspect of MLS that I think is more fun than the EPL, where the same three or four teams win every year: the parity.

If you look at the Eastern Conference standings right now, there are seven teams within nine points of each other, all of them battling to earn one of the conference’s five playoff spots. And when you factor in games in hand, the top five teams are in a virtual dead heat.

One of those teams is none other than your Philadelphia Union, who currently sit in third place, one point behind the second-place New York Red Bulls, who they just happen to be playing tonight in a nationally televised showdown at Red Bull Arena (8 p.m., NBC Sports).

Leading up to the big game, Hackworth was asked about the parity this season. Here's what he said:

“It’s a little scary. You can’t ever rest on what you did the last game, even if it’s a positive game. … We know we’re in a good spot but we also know how vulnerable we are right now. And if we take it for granted that we’re in a good spot, I think we can be hurt really quickly. That’s what happens right now. You’ve got so many teams that are bunched together and some teams have games in hand, it’s difficult to look at those standings and sort out where everyone’s going to end up at the end of the year.”

With 10 games left in the season, Hackworth admitted he’s started to do some math in his head to figure out how many points the Union need to get into the playoffs. “And it’s difficult math,” he noted. Well, here’s something that’s simple: If the Union beat the Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City loses to San Jose on Sunday, Philly will be in first place in the Eastern Conference at the end of the weekend.

So after going to the pub this morning to watch the EPL kick off Saturday, make sure to also watch one of the most important games in the New York-Philadelphia soccer rivalry this evening. The good part is Steve Moore won’t need to tell you who to root for.

Watch: Jon Dorenbos performs glass-shattering magic trick on America's Got Talent

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Watch: Jon Dorenbos performs glass-shattering magic trick on America's Got Talent

Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos was back on America's Got Talent on Tuesday night to continue his magical run on the popular show judged by Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum and their pals.

Dorenbos went with card tricks on his first two appearances on the show (trick 1, trick 2) but mixed things up last night with an interesting trick involving some homemade art.

Each of the judges were told to quickly draw something on a piece of paper and Dorenbos easily guessed who drew what. But that wasn't the crazy part. Dorenbos started the performance by walking out with a glass bottle with a prediction on it. At the end of the drawing exibit, Dorenbos broke the bottle and there was an envelope with the exact drawings labeled with each corresponding artists' name.

To move on, Dorenbos will need to earn the fans vote. The voting has closed but will be announced in the coming days. Watch the wild performance below.

He certainly has Doug Pederson's vote:

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Zach Eflin looks for 7th straight quality start

Phillies (46-56) at Marlins (54-46)
12:10 p.m. on CSN

A night after shutting out the Marlins, the Phillies were blanked themselves, falling to the Fish, 5-0, on Tuesday. The Phils look to claim a series win this afternoon in the rubber match. Let's take a look:

1. Zach Eflin, quality start machine
Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) allowed nine runs in 2⅔ innings in his MLB debut in Toronto in early June. Things unraveled quickly for him, and the outing made you wonder whether he had the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

He has the stuff to get major-league hitters out.

In seven starts since that debut, Eflin has a 2.08 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and an opponents' batting average of .207. He's struck out only 24 batters in 47⅔ innings, but walked just five. The control he showed in the minors has translated to the majors. With 1.43 walks per nine innings, Eflin has the fourth-best walk rate in the majors among starting pitchers with at least 50 innings, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Josh Tomlin and Mike Leake.

Eflin, who is 6-foot-6, has the look of a future workhorse. He's been one lately for the Phils, pitching two complete games and completing six innings in six straight starts. 

Eflin has not yet faced the Marlins in his young career.

2. Offense needs a spark
Not sure what it is about Tom Koehler that proves so troublesome for the Phillies. He throws in the low-to-mid-90s and has a decent curveball, but the rest of the league has hit him around. Koehler has faced the Phils four times this season and held them to a .149 batting average while posting a 1.64 ERA. Against all other teams, Koehler has a 5.13 ERA and .302 opponents' batting average.

The Phillies' offense has been anemic since the All-Star break, averaging fewer than 3.0 runs per game and hitting right around .200. The players who were so hot before the break — Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos (who was hurt Tuesday) — have cooled significantly. 

The only players who have hit for the Phillies since the break are Carlos Ruiz (7 for 13, two doubles) and the first basemen. Tommy Joseph is 9 for 29 (.310) with a double, two homers and four RBIs, while Ryan Howard has hit .263 with a pair of homers. 

3. Scouting Conley
The Phillies this afternoon face 26-year-old Marlins left-hander Adam Conley, who is 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in his first full big-league season. 

Conley is a lanky, 6-foot-3 lefty with a whipping arm motion that creates some deception and can't be too comfortable for a hitter to face. He can be truly dominant at times, like he was on April 29 when he no-hit the Brewers over 7⅔ innings. 

Conley has been especially effective over the last month, going 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA in seven starts and allowing more than two earned runs just once.

The Phillies faced him on May 16 at Citizens Bank Park and scored one run on eight hits in six innings. 

Conley is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball, slider, changeup. He throws his 92 to 94 mph heater 66 percent of the time. The changeup is such an effective pitch for him because of the aforementioned whip-like delivery. It's hard for a hitter to diagnose the change in speeds when he has wiry arms and legs coming at him.

Conley has reverse platoon splits: Lefties have hit .287 against him while righties have hit just .221.

4. The lineups
The Phillies are going with an unconventional lineup Wednesday. Cesar Hernandez gets his first start of the season at shortstop. Taylor Featherston makes his first start at second base after striking out as a pinch-hitter in his Phillies debut Tuesday. And seldom-used outfielders Tyler Goeddel and Jimmy Paredes are in the corners.

1. Cesar Hernandez, SS
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. Taylor Featherston, 2B
8. Jimmy Paredes, RF
9. Zach Eflin, P

And for the Marlins:

1. J.T. Realmuto, C
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Marcell Ozuna, CF
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Miguel Rojas, 2B
8. Don Kelly, 1B
9. Adam Conley, P

5. This and that
• This is the 13th game between the Phillies and Marlins this season. They've split the first 12. It's been a competitive head-to-head matchup between these teams the last three years, with the Phillies going 26-24 against the Fish since 2014.

• The Phillies are 10 games under .500. They haven't been 11 games under since June 28. They're on pace to finish 73-89, which would be a 10-win upgrade over last year.

Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

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Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

The only surprising thing about Stephen Colbert making fun of the Phillies with the Democratic National Convention in town this week is that it took until Tuesday.

Colbert used our beloved Phillies as the brunt of a joke last night and then invited out the "Hilly Phanatic" instead because the real guy was unvailable.

"Unfortunately the Phillie Phanatic wasn't available for the convention because it belongs to some baseball team and they can't spare him because he's the only entertaining part," Colbert said.

As you can see below, the Hilly Phanatic has the personality of Mike Pence compared to the real Phillie Phanatic. This one looks like the Phillie Phanatic's second cousin from overseas, not from the Galapagos but rather from the land of Smurfs.