Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

Is This Really As Good As It Gets?

As we go about analyzing what went so wrong so fast, we will almost certainly reach the same conclusion we have following every finish over the past decade: the Birds are still close. They won 11 games, came within one more of a post-season bye, and they managed to do so with a number of debilitating injuries and inexperienced players in key roles.

It all gets a little tiring though, and the manner in which this campaign ended was especially deflating. There are no positives to take away from their last two games, only questions about where they go from here, and we all know the giant elephant that needs to be addressed is quarterback. Then again, maybe that issue resolved itself. As the offense feebly attempted to move the ball on Saturday night, I couldn't help thinking we've seen enough.

It's time to explore a trade for Donovan McNabb.

This is the part of the post where I emphasize that I am not a hater. By now I've written enough words to the contrary, but somebody will invariably take this that way. Whatever. You'll never find me say an unfair word about him.

I just wonder sometimes...

McNabb played poorly on Saturday. He plays poorly for long stretches at a time, like the last ten quarters for instance. It's probably not a coincidence this most recent funk coincides with the loss of Jamaal Jackson. That may very well be the source of their most recent offensive woes, but the inconsistent nature of play from the quarterback position in Philadelphia has finally reached the point where it's safe to question whether this really is as good as it gets.

I just wonder sometimes what the offense would look like with Kevin Kolb instead.

Kolb doesn't have the same physical gifts as McNabb, such as the enormous stature that makes a man seemingly impossible to tackle, the speed and footwork to buy time in the pocket and outrun defenders, or the cannon arm that can throw a football over them mountains. Those things are proving to be overrated anyway. Give me accuracy, poise, and quick decision making, qualities Donovan showed none of against Dallas.

The fact that the offensive line crumbled does not completely excuse the quarterback's performance either. He had some throws that were there to be made, and he missed them. And where were the checkdowns? McNabb took a number of sacks the past two weeks where he simply held onto the ball for too long. There is no doubt about it, some of this falls on him.

Is Kolb really the solution though? Only a fool would blame McNabb for every opportunity the Eagles have come up short in the playoffs. They ran into better opponents on several occasions, like their first conference championship bid in '01 against Rams. He watched helplessly in '03 as his "receivers" dropped 10 passes, three of which inconveniently found the hands of Panthers defensive backs. The defense wasn't much of a help in Arizona last year.

Except even when it hasn't been entirely the quarterback's fault, never has he risen above the other 21 players on the field and carried any one of those teams across the finish line. Quite remarkably, it's the total opposite. It's not necessarily that he costs them the game, it's the inability to seize victory in a tight spot, while facing an equal or stronger opponent, regardless what the odds are. Find one example where Donovan was the difference maker in an elimination game.

Please spare us the list making. Yes, there was a dark period for Birds fans. Can we at least admit the group of quarterbacks between Cunningham and McNabb didn't have the same pedigree as Kolb? You're mostly talking about a bunch of career journeymen. The exception is Hoying, the starter in Ray Rhodes' final season, and when the team finishes 3-13, maybe quarterback isn't the only problem.

Kolb was a high second round pick. He's had three years to learn the system. The offense is loaded with all star talent. He played pretty well in his two starts. Obviously none of this guarantees he'll be successful in the NFL, but comparing Kolb and his situation to what went on here in the nineties is a leap. They're actually prepared to make a transition.

It's also not as if other quarterbacks haven't succeeded in McNabb's stead. Koy Detmer, for one night only, and A.J. Feeley in his rookie year held the ship together in '02. Jeff Garcia, previously banished from Cleveland, then Detroit, led the amazing turnaround in '06. Kolb clearly did fine early on this season. Mike McMahon is the lone failure at backup quarterback, but he was wildly awful in any situation he's ever been. The results otherwise suggest the Eagles will not miss a beat.

Enough about John Elway too. Besides not winning in his prime, know what else he has in common with McNabb? The Broncos drafted his replacement. Had they not fired Dan Reeves, or Elway didn't have a career year in 1993, we might be discussing how he needed to leave Denver to finally win a championship.

You don't know. Nobody does. Just as sick as I am of hearing Donovan will never win a championship, the counter punch that it took so-and-so this long is equally distressful. We're supposed to continue believing his career will follow the same path as one of the all time greats, a sports legend, even in the face of mounting evidence that indicates he isn't on that level? These past two weeks, he wasn't even on Tony Romo's level.

If McNabb is at the helm once again next season, along with a comfortable five-year extension, I honestly will not be disappointed. We're still talking about a very accomplished quarterback, not great, but easily better than roughly 75% of the rest of the league's starters. Regardless of what the goons out there say, he's capable enough to win with. The defense needs to be improved foremost for the Eagles to conceivably compete for a championship no matter who is running the offense in the first place.

Plus, looking at the big picture, the Dallas Cowboys are the better team this year. They're a bastion of health right now, with a huge offensive line, dominant pass rush, and emerging playmakers at the running back, wide receiver, and cornerback positions. We admittedly might be placing too much stock on one man's play when the Eagles were thoroughly outplayed from top to bottom.

And yet when do we finally run out of excuses? We've blamed coaching, particularly the play calling, but there was an honest commitment to running the football in the latter half of the season. We've blamed the weapons, so they assembled a roster full of Pro Bowlers, especially young, talented skill players. Next we're on to the defense, but unless the gameplan was to hold the Cowboys under seven points, the Eagles weren't winning either of these rounds.

Meanwhile, a young player wastes away on the bench, and nobody has the slightest clue what his true potential is. The Eagles could trade a franchise quarterback for something in the neighborhood of first and third round picks. One theory in the Twitter-verse sends McNabb in a virtually straight up deal for Julius Peppers, thereby eliminating their biggest need in the process. If Kolb does in fact have the ability to win games, his promotion combined with McNabb's departure would only serve to bolster an already impressive core.

If you were looking for somebody to stay the course today, you came to the wrong place. The Eagles can do better than Donovan McNabb. Maybe Kolb isn't the answer, but when has 5 ever been? They've won a lot of games, and it's been an enjoyable ride for anybody who can accept how difficult it is to become Super Bowl champions, but the time is now to figure out how they get over that hurdle.

Give me Kevin Kolb.

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).