Time for Some Phillies Baseball

Time for Some Phillies Baseball

It's been a pretty crazy day around these parts with that exciting news and all. Thank you all for the support, by the way. It's much appreciated. Matt's actually down in Florida already and I'm literally running out the door right now to catch a flight to Tampa en route to Clearwater for a few days of Phillies baseball. So you'll have that to look forward to. Before I hop on 95 to the airport, our boy Rev wanted to wax poetic on what it's like to be a Phillies fan these days. You know, before Placido hurt his knee. These are the Rev's words.

As
our fearless leaders Enrico and Matt P. head down to Clearwater for
spring training I thought it’d be appropriate to write a Phillies-related
post. It’s nearly impossible to not have a good time down there. I
couldn’t possibly give them any Clearwater-related tips or advice
other than to say appreciate it. Which, going forward, is the same advice
I’d give to all Phillies fans.  What do I mean by that? Without
going all Peter King on you I’ll try to explain.

I don’t think too many people would disagree that we’re in the midst
of a golden era in Phillies baseball. They enter this season having
been to consecutive World Series. They’re also three time defending
National League East champions. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy
Rollins are the best players in franchise history at their respective
positions. As a result of their success fans have flocked to Citizen’s
Bank Park in staggering numbers (3.6 million last season – including
73 sellouts).

Needless
to say, these are not the same Phillies that players used to put at
the top of their no trade list. Nothing illustrates this better than
the fact that Roy Halladay wanted to come here, and in so doing
was willing to give up the chance to explore free agency. He wanted
to be here so much that he signed a contract extension…for below market
value…with the Phillies.  Considering where they came
from the fact that the Phillies have morphed into a winning organization,
with a beautiful ballpark, and are an organization that players want
to play for is nothing short of stunning.

Since
it is relevant I suppose I should mention that I am 34 years old. As
a kid and then teenager I was accustomed to the Phillies trotting out
overpaid and underperforming free agents (Parrish, Lance; Jefferies,
Gregg), overhyped farmhands (Chamberlain, Wes; Combs, Pat), and in over
their head managers (Leyva, Nick; Francona, Terry). I never could have
envisioned a day where the Phillies would be mentioned as one of the
top organizations in baseball. They were a mom and pop operation run
by a nice man with white hair (Bill Giles) who was the designated sacrificial
lamb for a Keyser Söze-like secretive ownership group. They played
in a 66,000 seat 2/3rds-plus empty multi-purpose stadium (between 1989
and 1999 they averaged approximately 26,200 fans per home game). It
was bleak. As Henry Hill in Goodfellas said after the helicopters follow
him everywhere - as he realizes he’s going to lose everything - “these
were the bad times”. That’s what it was like to follow the Phillies
then. And now? Now life is good.

In
light of all of this history, and looking back at the offseason, with
the trade of Cliff Lee and the acquisition of Roy Halladay, it was stunning
to me that we spent the winter analyzing how the Phils would match up
with the Yankees in a presumptive World Series rematch. We didn’t
even give the regular season a thought. Another National League pennant
was assumed. I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, now that
we’re in the lull between the start of spring training and the start
of the regular season I’ve had a chance to reexamine things and regain
perspective on how incredible a run it has been, and will hopefully
continue to be over the next few years.

I
know I’ve been spoiled by all this success.  However, I don’t
want to look back ten years from now and regret not having truly appreciated
each and every time this core group of players takes the field together.
I lived through a 6-4-3 of Thon-to-Herr-to-Jordan. As a result, I don’t
want to look past however many more Rollins-to-Utley-to-Howard’s we
may have. We’ve gone from Person and Wolf at the top of the rotation
to Halladay and Hamels. How about from Milt Thompson and Phil Bradley
to Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth? It borders on unfathomable just
how far they have come. Do you realize there are kids out there who
have no idea about what it’s like to suffer through a 90+ loss season?
The Phillies have finished above .500 eight times between 2000 and 2009
(they were 65-97 in 2000 and 80-81 in 2002).

Now,
by no means do I wish the lean years would come back. It’s an absolute
joy to follow a winning team. What I am saying is that it’s not always
going to be like this. And, as a result, we need to appreciate just
how successful and rare an era of Phillies baseball we’re all witnessing.
While it’s absolutely justifiable to wonder why they couldn’t have
hung on to Cliff Lee and acquired Roy Halladay, realize how rare it
is in the history of this franchise to even be faced with such a dilemma.

So,
as they prepare to head north for the season opener in Washington on
April 5th take a moment and look at the lineup Charlie posts
that day. Halladay on the mound, Jimmy aggressively swinging at the
first pitch, Polanco putting his bat on the ball, Chase gathering himself
before making the throw to first, the Big Man pointing his bat towards
the pitcher, Werth going yard a pitch after he went down to a knee after
swinging through a fastball, Raul feasting on Nationals pitching, Shane
legging out an infield dribbler, and Chooch kicking his leg out Tony
Pena-style. My advice?  Appreciate it.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

Rehab updates
Leftfielder Cody Asche and left-handed reliever Mario Hollands had their rehab assignments transferred to Triple A Lehigh Valley. 

Asche is 5 for 34 (.147) with two home runs and 12 strikeouts during his stints with Clearwater and Reading. 

Hollands has been sharp, posting a 1.04 ERA in 8⅔ innings with 12 strikeouts and one walk.