Putting the Past Behind Us: Doc and Phils Attempt to Write New History at Yankee Stadium

Putting the Past Behind Us: Doc and Phils Attempt to Write New History at Yankee Stadium

I don't need to tell you how important this is, do I? Even if the next three games weren't against the team that roadblocked the Phils' chances of winning back-to-back titles--the Yankees, no less--they'd still represent a pivotal series in the team's young season.

After getting drubbed by a combined score of 22-4 in two games at Fenway Park, our boys were able to salvage a little dignity by taking the third game behind a strong outing from Cole Hamels. With things being as bad as they are currently, any W we put in the books feels like a potential momentum-shifter, and there'd really be no better way to follow that up than coming to the Bronx and taking a couple at Yankee Stadium.

It won't be easy. As mentioned prevoiusly, the Yankees are just as formidable an opponent this year as they were last autumn, with some old names gone (Damon, Matsui) or struggling (Teixeira, Sabathia) but with new names stepping up (Cano, Hughes) and die-hards dying harder than ever (Pettitte, Rivera). Whatever the combination, the Yankees currently boast a 40-23 record, tied with the Rays for the best in the business. They're coming off a sweep of the Astros, and they'd love to roll their old Philly foes one more time.

The Yanks have no doubt noticed, however, that the Phils are bringing a new friend to the party this time. Nobody is as familiar with one Roy Halladay as the New York Yankees, who had to face the righty vet 35 times over the course of his decade spent with the Blue Jays in the AL East. As pointed out by a recent ESPN New York article, no starter who has pitched more than 100 innings against the Yanks in the Wild Card era has a better ERA than Halladay's 2.84--even including the most famous pinstripe-perplexer of recent years, Pedro Martinez (3.20). With an 18-6 career record against New York, Doc has essentially pitched a Cy Young season against the team, and boy would we love to see him continue that trend tonight.

Halladay pitching probably gives us our best chance to take a game in this series, but the guy he's facing is no slouch either--CC Sabathia, one of the only pitchers with numbers comparable to Doc's last decade. Sabathia hasn't been on his game so much so far this year, posting just a 4.01 ERA and getting knocked around in recent starts against the Indians and Mets. But he's gotten his act together recently against the Orioles (good to know that the AL East uses games against the O's like rehab starts), and CC always steps it up as the weather gets warmer, so we'd be foolish to take him lightly--especially with our offense basically back in the doldrums once again.

7:05 start from Yankee Stadium. Minor lineup tweak for the Phils tonight, as for the first time since July 30, 2009 against the Giants, Chase Utley will be hitting in the two-hole, with Placido Polanco moving behind him to third. And on the Yankees' side, Alex Rodriguez is out of the lineup for the fourth straight game with a sore hip. They still got a couple other OK hitters in there, but at least without him, Damon or Matsui out there for the Bronx Bombers, the acid flashbacks for the guys in our lineup shouldn't be nearly as harsh.

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.