What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

What do the Phillies Need from Utley, Howard, and Halladay to Be Successful in 2013?

There are a lot of “ifs” for the Phillies heading into this
season, perhaps none bigger than “if” Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy
Halladay are healthy and return to form. As long as the heart of the lineup and
ace of the staff can rebound, these aging Fightins should still pose a threat
even in a crowded National League East.

But those are three players, none of them younger than 33,
coming off of serious injuries and/or declining numbers. It might be
unreasonable to bet on any one of them replicating their award-winning and
All-Star seasons, let alone all of them. I think everybody understands that.

The good news is they might not have to.

Looking back on last year, there are some obvious, bare
minimum benchmarks for each of them. Utley needs to be available for more than
half of a season for starters, the 83 games he played in 2012 the lowest since
his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. Howard needs to get on base more
than his career-worst .295, and Halladay can’t allow an earned run average of
4.49.

The real question is: what does each of them need to as
individuals to be considered successful in 2013? Because while it might be
unreasonable to expect them to revert to an All Star, MVP, or Cy Young, I’m not so
sure any of them has to attain quite that level of performance, either.

Utley

I’m not sure how much Utley’s numbers really need to improve
as much as he needs to be on the field more. For the first season in awhile, a lot of his stats were actually better than the year prior. Despite appearing
in 20 fewer games than ’11, Utley had just as many home runs (11) and one more
RBI (45). His OBP was also .21 points higher, up to .365 which is closer to what
he’s been throughout most of his career. Chase is probably past the days where he’s
going to post an OPS in the .900s, but with a full spring training and a year
of reasonably good health, a return to 2010 production (.832) is not out of the
question – it was .793 in '12.

That – good health – is the key though. Utley hasn’t played above
115 games in a season since ’09. Production is generally not the issue here, it’s
whether or not he is well enough to put his cleats on most days. If Utley can play
between 130-140 games this season, the Phillies should be better off no matter
what. Early indications are he's going to be able to do just that.

Howard

Yes, this past season was abysmal by any standards, not just Ryan
Howard’s, but what did everybody expect? He was still learning how to run again
when he came back from his torn Achilles tendon, and didn’t have much of a
spring training or rehab stretch to get the timing on that big swing of his
down.

Then again, when you’re talking about the Big Piece, just his presence
alone is meaningful. In the 66 games Howard started for the Phillies last year,
the Phillies showed slightly improved run production, going from 4.14 per game
to 4.35 per game. The difference is not quite as marginal as it might seem, as
that’s a difference of 21 runs over the course of a season, which would’ve been
enough to bump up one spot to seventh in the NL in scoring – ahead of the
Atlanta Braves. The Phillies also had a 39-27 record with Howard in the lineup,
the .591 winning percentage a few points better than what they posted over the
second half (.587). Think had he been swinging the bat reasonably well.

So even stinky Howard is better than no Howard. With his
Achilles healed, there’s no reason to believe his numbers can’t bounce back to ’10-’11 territory – we’re talking 30-35 homers, 110+ RBI, with OBP and slugging percentages
hanging around .350 and .500 respectively. That might not mean living up to his
enormous contract, but it’s enough to help the Phils win a lot of baseball games, that's for sure.

Halladay

Doc is the guy we might have to be worried about the most.
He’ll turn 36 this season, making rapid decline increasingly likely, and the stats
in 2012 are already some of his worst in over a decade. The velocity on his
fastball dipped, and perhaps as a result he was trying harder to pitch around
batters rather than running through them. After leading the league in
strikeouts-to-walks ratio for four consecutive years, that number (.367) fell below
his career average, maybe the most telling number of any.

Of course, we can now confirm that Halladay was hurt all
along. He recently admitted to having a lower back issue which he says altered
his mechanics, and there was a lengthy trip on the disabled list for an arm problem
later on.

Doc is the kind of guy you can never count out because of
his intensity though, so by no means am I predicting he can’t return to ace
status in the twilight of his career. Many great pitchers remained among the most effective in the game into their late 30s. I’m also not sure they need him to be
exactly the same pitcher who won a Cy Young with the Phillies in 2010, and
finished as the runner-up in ’11. Cole Hamels is at the top of his game, and
despite the inconvenient lack of run support, Cliff Lee still had a fine ’12 –
plus Kyle Kendrick has become reliable at the back end of the staff.

Not even really going out on a limb, but a healthy Roy
Halladay can easily do a full point better on last year's 4.49 ERA at least, and if
the Phillies are inclined to watch his innings, a quality bullpen should be
there to pick him up this season. Assuming Doc has everything sorted out with regards to his health, no
reason he shouldn’t win 16+ games again this year – and that’s if he’s not
chasing a third Cy Young award toward the end of the season.

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Josh Norman goes WWE on division, ready for Alshon Jeffery

Josh Norman goes WWE on division, ready for Alshon Jeffery

Josh Norman is going all WWE on the NFC East. 

Washington's outspoken cornerback is featured in a lengthy Q&A with Bleacher Report and he's, well, outspoken. 

He starts in the story by saying crazy things like this: "I feel like King Leonidas leading an army into battle, leading troops into defending your territory."

Yeah, off to a good start. 

He then goes after his nemesis Odell Beckham Jr. hard, calls Dez Bryant "just a guy" and even has some thoughts on new Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery. 

Norman praised receivers Julio Jones and Antonio Brown, saying there aren't those types of challenging players in the NFC East. He was asked if there was any player he has circled on his schedule. 

Jeffery was the one that came to mind. 

"Alshon [Jeffery] is going to be with us this year," Norman told Bleacher Report. "He's a big guy. He uses his body. And I enjoy going against big guys because they think they can get physical with me. They think that. That's quite the contrary."

Norman will get his shot against Jeffery in the opener, when the Eagles travel to Washington on Sept. 10. 

Comparatively, Jeffery got off easy. Norman was much less complimentary when speaking about Beckham, with whom he has an infamous history, and Bryant, the Cowboys' top receiver. 

On Bryant: "That's a guy. Just a guy. Dez was Dez in 2012, '13, '14. Maybe '14. Now? He's a guy."

Norman might have a little point with Bryant, who has failed to go over 800 yards in either of his last two seasons. In 2016, he caught 50 passes for 796 yards and eight touchdowns. From 2012-14, Dez was over 12,000 yards with at least 12 touchdowns in each of the three seasons. 

He even called Bryant a "fake tough guy" for his behavior on the field.  

But even Bryant got off easy. 

There's no secret about the way Norman feels toward Beckham. And Norman didn't hold anything back. Based on his comments, the WWE speak may turn into WWE-type action during the 2017 season. 

Here's a part of the Q&A about ODB: 

You get Beckham twice a year now.

Yeah, and that game gets so hyped up by the time we play them, it won't even be Giants vs. Washington—it'll be me and him. You know what I'm saying? It's like when it becomes bigger than the game. ... Because now you have us on Thanksgiving Night. C'mon, man!

So when you think of Odell, what is his game?

He tries to be a tough guy. He tries to put on this persona which he's not. Because he's always going to have his head on a swivel. Always. Always when we play each other. He's scary like that. He does things that he normally wouldn't do because of all the pressure and added hype that he has to put on his whole persona. He's not this guy. If you go back and watch the games in which we play compared to the games we don't play each other, he's a totally different guy.

How so?

When people get physical, tough, like the Minnesota game, he acts out. He's a kid. He's a big kid, man.

Like messing around with a kicker's net.

When you really, really want to see what a person's really like, you get in their face, you smell what they ate and you take their soul from them. How do you do that? You put your fist right into their chest and you see what they're made out of.

And you did exactly that with him. What did you see in Beckham?

You see a person who's actually not what they're made out to be. Because they come back at you. And that's not him. They come back at you in a way like, "He's not going to punk me! He's not going to sissy me out!" All right! But then when you go and you do things you're not accustomed to doing, that's pretty much what it is.

This is going to be fun. 

Throughout the whole thing, Norman speaks like a classing wrestling heel. If nothing else, the trash talk is going to make the NFC East more fun. 

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season.

ESPN announced Friday it has signed Kelly to a multiyear deal.

Kelly will primarily be part of Saturday pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. He'll also provide NFL analysis on Sundays during SportsCenter.

The 53-year-old Kelly spent the last four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia for three years and San Francisco for one. Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season. He was 26-21 with a playoff appearance for the Eagles.

Before jumping to the NFL, Kelly spent four seasons as Oregon head coach and went 46-7. In 2010, Kelly led the Ducks to the BCS title game and was The Associated Press coach of the year.

"I spoke with a lot of people this offseason about different situations for me -- in coaching and TV," Kelly said in a statement. "I had various opportunities in both. In the end, I have had a relationship with ESPN for many years from when I was coaching and after speaking with them, I decided it was the best step for me to take."

Kelly figures to be in demand at the college level when head coaching jobs begin opening next season. Spending a season or two doing television has been a common path for coaches between jobs. Urban Meyer spent a season at ESPN between resigning from Florida and landing at Ohio State. So did Rich Rodriguez after being fired by Michigan and before being hired by Arizona.

"I have been a coach for nearly the last 30 years," Kelly said. "Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different perspective, but I didn't take the job with the intention it will lead to something specific. I love the game of football and working with good, smart people; ESPN presents an opportunity to combine those two things."

Kelly will fill an opening left by Butch Davis, who became head coach at Florida International.

Kelly was considered one of the most innovative coaches in college football. His up-tempo spread offenses dominated defenses and were mimicked by teams all over the country.

"As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach," said Lee Fitting, ESPN senior coordinating producer. "We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process."