Is expanding the NFL playoffs a good or bad thing?

Is expanding the NFL playoffs a good or bad thing?

It seems like everything is constantly growing in today’s super-size culture, especially in professional sports where it’s the rule, not the exception and the bubble never seems to burst.

Major League Baseball added two teams to the postseason, inventing a dumbfounding one-game playoff in a sport that almost exclusively holds series of three games or more.

There are whispers of expansion in the NHL, a league that’s endured three lockouts in the last two decades because half of the existing teams already have trouble supporting themselves.

Compared to the above examples, this was eons ago, but the NBA changed its first-round playoff series from drama-filled five-game series to largely pointless seven-game sets.

There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it except cold hard cash. More games and more teams equal more events to televise which in turn equals more money.

The NFL is no different, constantly searching for new ways to squeeze more coin out of the most popular professional sports league in the United States. For instance, every year there is talk of going from a 16- to an 18-game season, an idea I lambasted in the past when it was a much hotter topic.

The 18-game schedule discussion seems to have died down for the most part, maybe because the players weren’t going for it, maybe because NFL commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t convince fans that’s what they want, because by and large they don’t. That doesn’t mean the league is done trying to expand its TV offerings however.

The latest scheme would be expanding the playoffs, adding one team to each conference’s bracket, and before you groan, you should be aware this is likely going to happen, if not next season, soon. I don’t have any sources on that, I just firmly believe it’s going to happen because honestly, it’s not a difficult sell, not to the people who matter most—the owners and the players’ association.

And would it even be a bad thing? The NFL and MLB are the only of the big four that don't allow more than 50 percent of the league into the postseason, so naturally traditionalists are concerned an expanded postseason would result in a similarly watered-down playoff field.

Even Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie warned expanding the playoffs might not be the greatest, and he obviously only stands to benefit from the additional TV money and ticket sales. His thoughts on the topic via CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher:

"We've got to be careful,” Lurie said in an interview Friday with the NFL Network. “We've always wanted to be a league that it's not easy to make the playoffs. I think adding one team per conference might work. We've got to schedule it in a way where the follow-up games allow for equal preparation for all teams.

On the flip side, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves it, probably because his team goes 8-8 every year and would actually have a shot at sneaking in that way if there was an extra berth. Indeed, in 2013, the seventh representative from the AFC would’ve owned an 8-8 record.

Then again, the seventh representative from the NFC would’ve been the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals, a franchise that arguably got shafted by the current format.

Regardless, the last thing I would ever want to see is an 8-8 or 7-9 team playing in the Super Bowl, but then I don’t see that happening under normal circumstances. There’s usually a reason they finished with such a middling record, therefore the playoffs should sort it out and allow the cream to rise to the top either way.

And there’s actually something about the proposed format I like. By adding a seventh team, only one in each conference receives a bye. Why such a nice reward for a squad that finished second? Only the best team truly deserves to have the week off.

Unlike most expansions, I find myself not completely hating the idea because the format is sound and I’m not sure it makes much of a difference on the quality of the product. Essentially, we’re talking about two extra games. Total. That's it.

If that’s what’s going to break the system, then it’s probably already broken.

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

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