Jimmy Rollins’ biggest problem: walk no longer backs up the talk

Jimmy Rollins’ biggest problem: walk no longer backs up the talk

“We are the team to beat.” With those six simple words, Jimmy Rollins gave the Philadelphia Phillies the swagger to seize the NL East in 2007, the first in a run of five straight division titles that included a world championship in ‘08. J-Roll was an undisputed leader inside the clubhouse.

Of course, it helped that Rollins went out and had himself a literal MVP season on the diamond in ’07. Those words might fall a little flat in 2014 coming from a 35-year-old shortstop who just posted the least productive season of his Major League career since becoming an everyday player.

Then again, they might not if he was the type of player who did things “the right way.”

A veteran of 14 big-league seasons, Rollins’ experience alone could be a valuable asset to the Phillies, particularly the younger players (there’s one or two I think). As the longest tenured athlete in the city of Philadelphia, he’s been through it all, from collecting championships and accolades to enduring losing and controversies.

Rollins has a history though. The three-time All Star has been benched in the past for his perceived lack of effort and issues with punctuality. He’s not a lead-by-example guy like, say, Chase Utley, who by all accounts is constantly working out and watching film, always striving to maintain an edge.

That’s not Jimmy. It never was, yet he was perfectly capable of leading this team before. Now all of a sudden the Phillies want him to lead or leave, as Buster Olney writes for ESPN.com.

The question is when did he stop being a leader?

One answer would be the moment Ryne Sandberg took over as manager last August. The new skipper instantly employed a more disciplined approach than Charlie Manuel, who at times seemed to act as more of a grandfatherly figure than a boss.

It’s not hard to imagine how Sandberg’s demands would conflict with Rollins’ laid-back attitude. Sure enough, J-Roll already has been benched for three games this spring. Meanwhile, his manager is ranting and raving about backup Freddy Galvis’ “energy” and “positive influence.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt the Phillies have got roughly the same production from Galvis here in the early-goings. Rollins is 2-for-22 with five walks and a home run this spring. Galvis is 4-for-34 with three walks, a triple and a home run.

Would Sandberg have benched Rollins if he was producing at the plate? Possible, but perhaps unlikely.

The bottom line is Rollins stopped being a leader right around the time his offense fell off of a cliff. The truth is he could get away with marching to the beat of his own drum because he was getting the job done where and when it counted, on the field and in clutch situations.

Those days appear to be gone now though, so let’s call this drama what it is. The real issue here has little to do with Rollins’ leadership, work ethic or attitude. This is about Rollins being a shell of the player he once was.

The problem is the Phillies are stuck with No. 11 for the time being. The organization can talk trade all they want, but Rollins has the final say on such matters, and he doesn’t sound inclined to walk. I suppose Sandberg could make the situation so untenable for Jimmy that he gives up, but that doesn’t exactly send a great message, either.

The play here might be to patch things up with Rollins, who is largely guilty of signing the contract the Phillies gave him, and try to survive the season ahead. The idea that he needs to set an example in the clubhouse if he can’t set one in the batter’s box is not who Rollins is. Feuding over it is only a disservice to everybody.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

USA Today Images

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers at Canadiens
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers’ mettle will be tested this week with a stretch of five games in seven days.

That’s a lot of pucks.

It starts Monday night when the Flyers (2-2-1) visit the hot-starting Montreal Canadiens (4-0-1) at the Bell Centre.

Let’s get you set with five things to know for the matchup:

1. Goals, goals, goals
There should be an abundance of them Monday night.

The Canadiens are scoring an NHL-most 4.00 goals per game while the Flyers, coming off a six-goal outburst, are third at 3.80.

Montreal has been scary good through five games. Not only are the Canadiens lighting the lamp at a league-best clip, but they’re also allowing the fewest goals per game at 1.60 a night. They have hockey’s No. 1 goal differential (plus-11) and No. 8 penalty kill, having thwarted 23 of 25 opponents' power plays (92.0 percent).

The Canadiens' offseason additions of defenseman Shea Weber and backup goalie Al Montoya have paid instant dividends. Weber, acquired in a blockbuster trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Predators, has one goal, four assists and leads all NHL blueliners with a plus-8 rating. Montoya, who filled in early for a flu-stricken Carey Price, is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Price, the 2014-15 Hart Memorial Trophy winner (NHL MVP), looks in form after playing just 12 games last season because of a knee injury.

2. A fresher Ghost
Shayne Gostisbehere went off for three points (one goal, two assists) in the Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, his biggest output of the season.

It just so happened to come in a game in which Gostisbehere registered his lowest ice time of the season at 16:45, a significant drop from his previous low of 20:57. Before the defenseman’s three-point game, Gostisbehere played an average of 23:14 over the prior three games while totaling one point and a minus-3 rating.

Is it a coincidence Gostisbehere’s best game yet was in far less ice time? Maybe, but the 23-year-old is playing the Flyers’ most minutes (21:29 per game) after undergoing offseason surgery and finishing the longest year of his hockey life.

Defensemen Mark Streit (22:45), Nick Schultz (19:44) and Brandon Manning (18:41) all played season highs in minutes on Saturday, and there’s no way that was by mistake.

If head coach Dave Hakstol can manage Gostisbehere’s ice time and not rely so heavily on the second-year blueliner, it can only help the Flyers. A more rested Gostisbehere is a better Gostisbehere — and we all know how vital the 2015-16 Calder Trophy runner-up is to the Flyers’ power-play success, as well as defensive coverage.

3. Stop and start
Speaking of defensive coverage, while the Flyers are scoring quite a bit, they’re not stopping anyone. The orange and black are surrendering 3.80 goals per game — tied for fifth most in the NHL — which is exactly what they score on average.

The Flyers can’t consistently bank on winning goal-fests.

Starting fast will be critical against the Canadiens, who close games as well as anyone. Montreal is outscoring its opposition 17-6 through the second and third periods. The Flyers have just one goal in the first period.

Facing this Habs team, it’ll be problematic if the Flyers fail to get going early.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Matt Read, why not? With five goals, the 30-year-old is astoundingly tied for second in the NHL with Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews. Last season, it took Read 29 games to score five goals. The previous season, he needed 56 games. This year, just five. Until he comes back to Earth, Read will be worth watching as much as any other Flyer.

Canadiens: The 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk racked up career highs last season in goals (30) and points (56). To start this season, the 2012 No. 3 overall pick has a goal and four assists in five games. Young and offensive-minded, Galchenyuk has given the Flyers trouble in the past with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 11 career games against them.

5. This and that
• Steve Mason has played in the Flyers’ last four games with three starts and one relief appearance. Michal Neuvirth has not played since last Tuesday. He is 6-4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 13 lifetime games against Montreal.

• Price is 11-9-0 with a 2.61 GAA and .916 save percentage in 21 career games against the Flyers.

• Jakub Voracek leads the Flyers in points with seven but is third in the NHL in penalty minutes with 24.

• The Canadiens have won three straight games by a combined score of 13-4.

• Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee) and forward Scott Laughton (knee) returned to practice on Sunday.