Vance Refrigerates Cubs, as Offense Rolls to Eighth Consecutive Series Win

Vance Refrigerates Cubs, as Offense Rolls to Eighth Consecutive Series Win

The Philadelphia Phillies hammered the Chicago Cubs by a final score of 9 to 1 on an oppressively hot afternoon at Wrigley. Local temperatures hovered just shy of 100-degrees for the majority of the game, while Chicago heat indexes soared into the triple digits.

The Phillies, undaunted by the sweltering heat, gave Cubs' starting pitcher Ryan Dempster far more than he could handle during the early innings. A Ryan Howard single to left and a Shane Victorino groundout into a fielder's choice scored Michael Martinez and Chase Utley, respectively, to put the visiting Phils up 2-0 after the first.

Just one inning later, the flood gates would open.
With two down in the top of the second, pitcher Vance Worley cracked a double to reach base and extend what was assumed to be a closed inning. From there, the Phillies would tack on on three more runs thanks to a Jimmy Rollins double, Michael Martinez single, Michael Martinez stolen base and a Chase Utley double.
 
After surrendering five runs on 64 pitches through only two innings, Dempster would survive just one more frame. Thankfully, the Phils took that extra inning to tag Dempster for additional run thanks to a two-out double from Brian Schneider. By the time the book was closed on Dempster, he bore responsibility for 6 earned on 7 hits via a whopping 86 pitches in just 3 innings of work.

The Phillies would later add three more on the Cubs' bullpen thanks to Chase Utley's second double of the day and two Jimmy Rollins solo shots, each one batted from a different side of the plate.

To put it in perspective, only four times in Phillies history has a batter knocked two home runs in the same game batting from the right and left. With his performance today, Jimmy Rollins is responsible for two of those four occasions, a somewhat unsurprising fact. An infinitely more surprising fact, the last Phillie to complete such a feat besides Rollins—Tomás Orlando Pérez in 2001.

The obvious leaders of the offense this afternoon, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley finished the day a combined 5-8 with 5 RBIs and 5 runs scored.

Not to be lost in their impressive shuffle, however, was the play of the rapidly-improving Michael Martinez. Since July 1st, Martinez has failed to play in just three games while filling in for the injured Placido Polanco. Over that eleven game stretch, with today's game excluded from his monthly total, Martinez is batting a hefty .297 in July, consequently raising his season average an impressive .30 points. During today's game in Chicago, Martinez reached base twice, scored twice, stole a bag and knocked in a run.

Speaking of not getting lost in the shuffle, or getting buried at the bottom of the post, Vance Worley more than held up his end of the bargain. Despite the aforementioned temperatures, Worley gave up just one hit over his first six shutout innings. Though a rough start to the seventh would see Vance load the bases with no outs and ultimately give up a run, he would work his way out of the jam thanks to a nifty save by Jimmy Rollins and a timely Jimmy to Chase to Ryan double play. His final line in the sweltering Chicago heat: 8.0 IP, 4H, 1ER, 2BB, 7K, on 111 pitches.

From there, manager Charlie Manuel would opt to turn the ball over to Ryan Madson. In his third appearance since returning from the disabled list, Mad Dog needed just eight pitches to force three pop ups to end the ninth.

We hope you enjoyed our coverage from Chicago over the past few days. For today's game, E took advantage a well-deserved day off, drank a beer or two and watched the action from the stands. In honor of his decision, and Vance Worley's gem of an outing, we leave you with this clip from the Chicago-based Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

With new mindset, Nelson Agholor embraces competition to prove himself to Eagles

Nelson Agholor’s rookie season was a disappointment, but his second year in the NFL was a disaster, the pressure of which was clearly getting to him. Now Agholor finds himself on the roster bubble as his third year with the Eagles commences, and it’s fair to wonder what the wide receiver’s mindset is like in 2017.

“Confident and comfortable,” Agholor said Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, where phase three of OTAs had just begun.

Earlier in the day, Agholor had been involved at practice — cycling in with the first-team offense and getting plenty of looks, too. Later, he would be the last player to leave the field, continuing to run sprints alone after practice ended. Finally, back in the locker room, Agholor explained the epiphany he arrived at during the offseason, and how he knows he’s ready to put 2016 behind him.

“I just had a realization that the only thing that matters is the current situation,” Agholor said. “I’m here, I have an opportunity to get better and make myself a better football player.”

None of this means everything is about to click for Agholor, and he’s suddenly going to perform up to his status as a first-round pick. The Eagles clearly weren’t counting on that, either, when they signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, then selected two more receivers in the draft.

If Agholor intends to turn his career around, a fresh outlook isn’t a bad place to start.

Failing to meet expectations and under relentless scrutiny, Agholor’s demeanor changed over the course of last season. Frustrations finally boiled over during a postgame rant after an Eagles loss to the Cowboys. Four weeks later, he was a healthy scratch against the Packers. Though Agholor suited up for the final five games, there was no discernable change from a production standpoint.

“That’s in the past,” Agholor said. “I practiced today. I got after it today. Anything that happened back then, it happened for a reason.”

Agholor — who turned 24 Wednesday — attributed the bulk of his struggles to youth and inexperience while denying mental or confidence issues were to blame for his performance. With only 59 receptions for 648 yards and three touchdowns to show after two years, the Eagles couldn’t wait for him to grow up any longer, which led to Jeffery and Smith being brought aboard.

“I took it for what it was,” Agholor said. “I said, ‘This was what happened, this is the new opportunity, so every day, just focus on getting better at some aspect of it.’

“It’s all about getting better consistently each day, even if it’s just a little. At the end of the day, the whole world will be like, ‘Man, this is the product?’ Some of the best players in this league, they didn’t just become really great the first day there. It took a process and continuous progression every day.”

But how exactly does Agholor go about making that jump? Because work ethic has never been a complaint, nor was talent a problem at USC, where he finished with 179 receptions for 2,571 yards and 20 touchdowns in 40 games.

There’s no telling whether Agholor will ever put it all together in the NFL. He has refined his approach, however.

“I focused on the simple grind, whether it’s conditioning, whether it was living weights,” Agholor said of offseason workouts. “I wasn’t trying to have just a miracle happen. I just started focusing on the simplest things.

“I got on the track and worked on my speed and worked on my conditioning. I was in the weight room, worked on my strength and my durability, making sure my muscles were working the right way. That’s all it was, little things like that.”

Coaches and teammates are seeing a difference in Agholor as well. Most of all, they believe competing against veterans like Jeffery and Smith will bring the best out of a young receiver still trying to find his way.

“Nelson's attitude has been great. He's worked extremely hard this offseason,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “As I've said all along, competition sharpens you, and that's what I've seen from Nelson.”

“I feel like competition is what’s going to help breed production,” Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. “If you’ve got more guys coming in and working, you don’t have time to worry about this, this and this. You have to worry about going in and keeping your job, you have to worry about going in and making plays every single day, and that goes for everybody, not just Nelson.”

Agholor does not disagree.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me to compete vs. some really good players,” Agholor said of Jeffery and Smith. “These guys have proven themselves in the league, so if I show that I’m capable of performing the same way they are, then I’m in the conversation.”

That might seem like wishful thinking, but for this brief period in OTAs, Agholor has the upper hand — he knows the offense. And even if the Eagles wanted to move on from Agholor this year, his contract is such that a release would cost more against the salary cap than if he was to remain on the roster.

Financial ramifications aside, Agholor’s spot on the final 53-man roster legitimately appears to be in jeopardy. His hope in the meantime is to make himself indispensable.

“I feel like I want to be one of the best players on this team, and that takes care of it right there,” Agholor said. “I want to be a guy when you watch him on tape, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I need him.’

“The best players play, and I want to be one of the best players.”

For all of the doubts about his confidence, Agholor has seldom had any trouble expressing a general belief that he belongs in the NFL. Any doubts he did have, he obviously did not entertain for very long, based on his goals in 2017.

“I love this game, and I want to play this game for a long time, so I’m not going to allow anybody besides myself determine how long I do this,” Agholor said. “This is only Year 3, and I want to play 10-plus. The only way I do that is making myself available and making myself a good football player.”

Coming off of a season that nearly caused him to lose his swagger and cool, Agholor is doing and saying all the right things again, even as the Eagles bring in potential replacements. Perhaps the notion that it feels like a step in the right direction speaks to how poorly those first two seasons went.

Quick Slants podcast: Lane Johnson impressed by Derek Barnett

Quick Slants podcast: Lane Johnson impressed by Derek Barnett

It took Lane Johnson just one day to figure it out: Derek Barnett might be pretty good. 

The Eagles' right tackle went up against the 14th overall pick in last month's NFL draft several times during Tuesday's first OTA practice and the young pass-rusher more than held his own. 

Johnson was a guest on the Quick Slants Podcast with Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks and he said he was impressed by Barnett. 

"I had a chance to go against him today," Johnson said. "He's got a few moves in his arsenal just from being a rookie. I expect a big year from him just from seeing him go against other guys, me going against him. He's a very talented guy." 

What specifically impressed Johnson about Barnett? 

"He can get real low, dip that edge and shave a lot of yards off when he's rushing the passer," Johnson said. "Everybody was talking about Myles Garrett being the best rusher in the class, but I think they underestimated Derek."

Barnett was just one of the topics Johnson touched on in this week's podcast. He also talked about his future after PED violations and the state of the entire Eagles' offense. Check out the full podcast here