With Division Crown Within Grasp, Manuel May Be Scoreboard Watching

With Division Crown Within Grasp, Manuel May Be Scoreboard Watching

Charlie Manuel talked for longer than usual prior to tonight's game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Topics ranged from how good of an arm he had as an outfielder back in the day -- a good one, of course -- to how the giant scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park, with all the different information and numbers, reminds him of CNBC's Squawkbox TV show monitoring the stock market.

It's a lot easier to talk at length while being more open when your team is cruising into the postseason. There's a chance the Phillies could take another important step on their quest towards the World Series tonight. If the Phillies beat the Cardinals at CBP and the Mets beat the Braves down in Atlanta, the team will clinch its fifth-straight NL East crown.

I asked Charlie before the game if he'd be checking the scoreboard at all throughout the night with the outcome in Atlanta potentially impacting whether or not he needs to wear goggles later this evening.

"Probably. I've been looking at the scoreboard ever since the season started. This one's big enough to see. Matter of fact, this one's got enough stuff on it, it's kind of like looking at Squawkbox or something."

Clinching the division is a big step, but it's not nearly as big as it was a few seasons ago. Plus, there's the fact that they're doing it with two weeks left in the season. How does this team keep the passion levels so high? How do they keep the foot on the gas?

Manuel said the addition of the pitching staff that is hungry and has yet to win a title is a big part of it. His core guys aren't satisfied with only one title. Cole Hamels famously said on that celebration day at CBP in 2008 that he wanted to ride down Broad St. as a champion again, and again, and again. There's the right fielder who has added tremendous energy to the ball club.

Then there's Philadelphia.

Charlie was asked about the atmosphere that's created here and whether it helps the Phillies retain their passion.

"I think this city, I think the ballpark, I think the fans, I think everything about it," Manuel said. "I think the way that we talk -- the way that our players talk. The attitude of the players has to be that way. All of the things -- the noise, the loudness, the fact that we fill our ballpark up. They like to play here and they like to play in front of our fans."

Those fans wouldn't mind an extra treat tonight.

The plastic is hanging above the lockers, waiting to be draped down. The champagne is on ice.

Could be a nice little pre-party tonight in South Philly. But we all know the real party won't happen for another month and a half. We all want a rager then.

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Tonight's starters are Vance Worley (11-2, 2.92) vs. Jaime Garcia (12-7, 3.68)

Tonight's Lineup: Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Pence, Polanco, Mayberry, Francisco, Schneider, and Worley.

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Clincher? The Braves-Mets game starts a half hour later than the Phils game tonight. If the Phils win, and the Braves game is still in progress, the team said there is a chance they put it on the jumbotron at Citizens Bank Park.

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac 12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac 12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17-points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac 12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.