Phillies offensive problems continue

The Phillies offense is becoming difficult to overcome.  While the pitching is still doing their part, currently sitting at 7th in the majors in ERA, the offensive numbers are staggering.  Coming off their worst offensive performance as a team since 2002, the Phils have not followed up the 2011 campaign with a good start.

While the Phillies won on Tuesday night 8-5 against the Diamondbacks, this was their highest run total of the season.  The Phightins sit at 28th in the majors in runs scored three weeks into the season, only ahead of the lowly Athletics and Pirates.

Cleanup hitter Hunter Pence will need to be huge these first two months to make up for the RBI lost with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard out of the lineup. Picture Source: AP

The same team that scored less runs than the Mets last year only addressed their offense this offseason by signing Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, and Jim Thome.  Juan Pierre was signed to a minor league contract, and has added some speed at the top of the lineup.  But there is no one in the middle of the order to drive him in.  The Phillies are playing without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, and chose to let Raul Ibanez walk in free agency, who was actually second on the team in 2011 with 84 RBI.

It’s only April 24th, but the offense isn’t much better elsewhere.  Ty Wigginton would have been a nice replacement to Placido Polanco, or at least a good utility man.  Laynce Nix has shown power as a fourth outfielder.  And Jim Thome was supposed to be relied on mainly as a pinch-hitter.  Instead, Nix and Wigginton are starting most of the team’s games, and Juan Pierre has been playing for John Mayberry, who is off to a rough start.

Because the Phillies did not upgrade elsewhere, they are going to have to hope the trio of Hamels, Halladay, and Lee are even better this year.  If not, this team will be out of the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Chase Utley and Ryan Howard can’t comeback soon enough.

Sixers clinch first playoff berth

The Sixers are back in the playoffs.  The team has had a rough stretch in the second half of this season, especially with 9 of their last 11 games being on the road.  But the Sixers have 3 straight wins, and look to have some momentum going into the playoffs.  Coach Doug Collins is trying to use Spencer Hawes off the bench, and the team is 5-3 since doing so.  Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala will most likely sit the last two games to rest, and the team needs them to be healthy if they want any chance of making it past the first round.  The Sixers will face the Heat or the Bulls in the first round, depending if they pass New York in the last two games, who they are tied with at 34-30 apiece.

It's time for Andre Iguodala to step up in the playoffs. Picture Source: AP

The Heat and Bulls have given the Sixers trouble this season, and command tough defensive assignments.  The team needs to play the same strong defense it played in the first half of the season, and need to get strong front court play to compete with Chicago and Miami’s forwards.

The first round starts Saturday, April 28th.

Flyers – Penguins Infographic

The Flyers got off to a great start Wednesday night, overcoming a 3 goal first period deficit to come back and beat the Pens, 4-3 in Overtime.  Here is an infographic further detailing the Playoff Series, done by BroadStreetBlogs.com and Kat Findley.

Flyers_penguins

Image Credit: http://broadstreetblogs.com/flyers-penguins-by-the-numbers-2012-04-10.aspx

2012 MLB Preview

As I talked about earlier, I like the Phillies for the 2012 NL East Crown.  In this post, I will predict the order of finish in each of the divisions, and also my predictions for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookies of the Year.

Division Breakdowns

*Denotes Wild Card Winner

 

NL EAST:

  • Phillies
  • Braves*
  • Nationals
  • Marlins
  • Mets

The Braves need a big rebound from Jason Heyward to get back to the playoffs (AP Picture)

The aging Phillies are still the class of the NL East.  They have most of their team returning, and have upgraded at closer with Jonathan Papelbon.  Luckily the Phils still have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels to compensate for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley’s injuries.  The Braves have the second strongest pitching staff in the division, which is why they are my pick for number two.  Many people have the Marlins finishing higher and some even first, but there are too many question marks in their starting rotation to place them above a Washington Nationals team that boasts a 1-2-3 of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann.  The Mets are the Mets.

 

NL CENTRAL:

  • Brewers
  • Reds*
  • Cardinals
  • Pirates
  • Cubs
  • Astros

Joey Votto was just given a 10-year, $225 million extension, a record contract for a Reds player (AP Picture)

Although the Brewers lost Prince Fielder, they were able to use the money saved to spend on improving their left side of the infield, signing Aramis Ramirez.  The Reds should rebound from a disappointing 2011 campaign, as they have added ace pitcher Mat Latos to the rotation, and just gave MVP Joey Votto a 10-year extension.  The Cardinals have lost a lot, but should not falter lower than third.  The Pirates showed some promise last season, but have not improved offensively or defensively in the offseason, and will struggle to finish fourth.  The Cubs and Astros are in serious rebuilding mode.

 

NL WEST:

  • Diamondbacks
  • Giants
  • Rockies
  • Padres
  • Dodgers

Outfielder Justin Upton is an NL MVP Candidate for the Diamondbacks (AP Picture)

The Diamondbacks came out of nowhere last season, but they are the only team that actually has some hitting to pair with their pitching.  The Giants have the best rotation in the NL West, but their offense is anemic.   The Rockies are a young team with a lot of talent, and they have improved their lineup with the additions of Marco Scutaro and Michael Cuddyer.  This is a team that could easily pull what they D’backs did last season, and win the division.  The Dodgers don’t have much outside of Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp, so don’t expect them to beat a Padres team that was third in the majors in ERA last season.

 

AL EAST:

  • Yankees
  • Rays*
  • Blue Jays*
  • Red Sox
  • Orioles

Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays could be baseball's fourth ever 30-30 third baseman this season (AP Picture)

The most interesting division in baseball, this year looks to be a four team race.  The Yankees have the best hitting in the division, and have a great bullpen.  The Rays continue to plug away every offseason, adding young stars to replace players lost to free agency.   Desmond Jennings and Matt Moore come into the fold and will make immediate impacts on the team.  The Blue Jays are my dark horse team this season, as they have one of the most potent lineups in the league, headed by upcoming star Brett Lawrie and slugger Jose Bautista.  The Jay’s rotation also includes  great1-2 punch of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.  The Red Sox look to be going in the opposite direction of the Jays, with many questions surrounding the team and a manager who loves being in the spotlight, Bobby Valentine.  But with an offense that includes Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia, this is a team that can easily still win the division.  The Orioles need help everywhere.

 

AL CENTRAL:

  • Tigers
  • Indians
  • Royals
  • White Sox
  • Twins

Reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander heads the Tigers (AP Picture)

The Tigers made the second biggest move of the offseason, signing Prince Fielder.  In a weak division, this squad headed by Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and MVP Justin Verlander should not have many problems winning the crown.  The Royals are in the right direction, but still do not have the pitching that the Indians have.  The White Sox seem to be in limbo, but have more pieces than a Twins team that has Carl Pavano as their Opening Day starter.

 

NL WEST:

  • Rangers
  • Angels
  • Athletics
  • Mariners

The Angels gave Albert Pujols the second-largest deal in baseball history (AP Picture)

Coming off consecutive World Series losses the past two seasons, the Rangers seem to plug any holes they might have each season.  Fire-baller Neftali Feliz moves to the rotation, and veteran Joe Nathan comes in to close.  The entire lineup returns, and the team added Japan’s price possession, 25-year old Yu Darvish, who is turning heads in Spring Training and looks like an ace.  The Angels will give the Rangers some competition, undoubtedly so when they added Albert Pujols.  The team also signed C.J. Wilson away from the Rangers to a rotation that already included Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.  The Athletics and Mariners will compete for fourth.

 

Playoffs:

NL Wild Card: Reds over Braves
NLDS: Phillies over Diamondbacks, Brewers over Reds
NLCS: Phillies over Brewers

AL Wild Card: Rays over Blue Jays
ALDS: Rangers over Tigers, Rays over Yankees
ALCS: Rangers over Rays

World Series: Rangers over Phillies

NL MVP: Joey Votto, CIN
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, DET

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, PHI
AL Cy Young: David Price, TB

NL ROY: Devin Mesoraco, CIN
AL ROY: Yu Darvish, TEX

 

Phillies Season Preview

Going into a season where the Phillies had another colossal disappointment – a first round playoff exit – their first since 2007 – there are many question marks.  Will Chase Utley play this year? Will Ryan Howard be able to come back strong in June? And how the hell will the team score runs without these two middle-of-the-order clogs?  This is a team coming off 5 straight NL East titles, so experience is one thing they do not lack.  Returning are their three ace starting pitchers, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who finished second, third, and fifth respectively in the 2011 NL Cy Young voting.

The Phillies finished the 2011 season with 102 wins, a franchise record and MLB best.  This is clearly a team built on pitching, as the Phillies were in the middle of the pack last year in offense.  Ranking 13th in the majors in runs scored, this was the Phils’ first time being outside of the top ten in offense since 2003.

The team is changing, and relying on different aspects of winning.  The Phillies also return a strong bullpen, headed by the signing of free agent closer Jonathan Papelbon, but it came at a steep price.

The Phillies were first in the majors in ERA in 2011, and it wasn’t even close.  Boasting a 3.02 earned run average, the next two closest teams had ERAs of 3.20 and 3.42.  The biggest question mark for the Phightins is how are they going to manufacture runs with a lineup that features Juan Pierre, Freddy Galvis, and John Mayberry, and Placido Polanco?

The good news is, the rest of the NL East has plenty of question marks.

The Braves return a strong squad, but also have holes at shortstop and left field.  Will Jason Heyward recover from a sophomore slump, and can Martin Prado be effective again after injury?

How will 22-year old Freddy Galvis respond to filling the large shoes of Chase Utley? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Yes, the Miami Marlins just got a new stadium and new franchise player in Jose Reyes, but how will Hanley Ramirez respond to being moved to third base?  And can their rotation stay healthy, or out of trouble in Carlos Zambrano’s case?  The Nationals have surprisingly fielded a competitive starting rotation, but still have much youth on their team.

And lastly, the New York Mets. Well, the only question is how many games will they be out from fourth place.

This is still a Phillies lineup that has a former MVP in Jimmy Rollins, 2-time all-stars Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and one of the best defensive catchers in the game, Carlos Ruiz.  In order for the team to be competitive until Howard and Utley return, Freddy Galvis has to continue to hit like he did in Spring Training, Placido Polanco needs to flash his first half of 2011 more than his second half, and the outfield/first base platoon of John Mayberry, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton needs to be productive.  In all honesty, with this team’s experience, the money is still on Philadelphia.

The Phillies will need a strong season from veterans like Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco if they hope to win their 6th straight division title. (AP Photo)

The Phillies will be right there until the end in the NL East this season, but it won’t be easy.  Each of the top four teams boasts three quality starting pitchers, but what they don’t have are three Cy Young quality starting pitchers.  I predict the Phillies will win their 6th straight division title, but realistically their window of opportunity is closing by the minute.

In my next blog post, I will make all the predictions for the 2012 season, in a 2012 MLB Preview.

Eagles still open to trading Asante Samuel, Titans potential landing spot

The Eagles have admittedly a strong point at cornerback, with General Manager Howie Roseman speaking about the topic on Tuesday.

“We [feel] like corner is a position of strength right now,” Roseman said. “But at the same time when you talk to teams around the league, you’re talking about maybe some positions that you have a strength and maybe that they have a weakness. You try to see if that’s a match whether that’s cornerback or anywhere else.”

Samuel is the one corner who could be traded, and he has been in trade talks since last August, when the team took a number of calls from teams interested in acquiring him.

This sums of Asante Samuel's career so far as an Eagle. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Even though he carries a base salary of 9.5 million next season, Asante is also reportedly open to restructuring his contact, and the Eagles are seeking at least a third-round pick for their Pro Bowl cornerback.

The Titans are one team whose name has come up recently as a suitor in a trade, as they lost their top corner Cortland Finnegan to free agency this offseason.

Given the depth the Eagles have at corner, another draft pick could help this team build even more of a young squad with plenty of potential, but it’s all up to how they execute their selections.

Sixers beat Cavs, try to piece together winning streak

The 76ers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night 103-85, after getting strong backcourt production from Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks.  The starters combined for 50 of the team’s 103 points, who were without all-star Andre Iguodala.

It was only the third victory in the last eight games for the Sixers, who have not won two games in a row since a March 11th victory against the Knicks.

The 76ers have a narrow half game lead on the Boston Celtics, and will need a strong finish next month to capture their first division title since their NBA Finals appearance in 2001.

“The goal is to win the division,” Head Coach Doug Collins said. “I told them that last year with a new coach, you started 3-13, and we dug ourselves out. This year, going into this game, we had had a 7-13 stretch. The difference now is we’ve all been together.”

The Sixers have been improving ever since under the leadership of Doug Collins. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Sixers have been successful this year against sub-.500 teams, with an 18-5 record.  But against winning teams, they are just 10-17.  Luckily, most of the team’s remaining schedule is against teams with a losing record, with 9 of their last 16 opponents being below .500.  The other 7 games are all against teams in the Eastern Conference, and this will be the time for the Sixers to show where they can go in the playoffs.

“We know we are resilient. We know what we have to do,” said Collins.  “We’ll just keep doing the same thing and we’ll dig ourselves out.”

Bryzgalov diagnosed with chip fracture in his right foot

Ilya Bryzgalov, arguably the team’s MVP in March, was found limping in the locker room after the Flyer’s loss to Tampa Bay on Monday night, and the team announced on Tuesday he has a chip fracture in his right foot.

But according to general manager Paul Holmgren, he is day-to-day.  He will miss the Flyer’s game on Thursday, but the team is hopeful he will be back to practice soon and be able to return to action this weekend.

Goalie Bryzgalov has been key for the Flyers this month. Source: AP

This is coming at a bad time for Bryzgalov, who is enjoying his best month by far as a Flyer.  In March, the net minder is 10-2-1 in 13 starts, with a 1.43 goals against average and a .947 save percentage.  He also leads the NHL with 4 shutouts this month.

“We don’t think this is a serious injury,” Holmgren said on a conference call with reporters.

Hopefully the goalie can use the time to rest up, and be strong for the playoffs.

Utley to miss opener, leaves 2012 season in doubt

Chase Utley announced on Sunday that he will not need surgery for his ailing knees, but he will not be ready for the Season Opener.  He will be visiting a new specialist in Phoenix, and is working on strengthening the areas around his knees.  It is uncertain when he will be back, but he is optimistic he will be back this season.

This is all coming after Ryan Howard suffered a setback earlier in the month, and probably won’t be back until around June.  Losing Utley and Howard gives an opportunity for newcomers Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix to capitalize.  John Mayberry will also need to step up in order for this lineup to produce.

It is not known how long Chase Utley will be out. Picture Source: Kathy Willens / AP

Replacing Utley in the starting lineup will most likely be 22 year-old Freddy Galvis, who has had a decent spring.  He is hitting .273 in 66 Spring at-bats, with 2 homers, 3 doubles, and 2 triples.  Although he provides some pop in the lineup, it does not compare to what a healthy Utley can do at the top of the order.

The Phillies will be leaning heavily on their three aces to start the season, because their usual top two run producers are going to be out for an extended period of time.

Eagles make minimal offseason moves, turn attention to draft

For the Eagles offseason so far, it has been marked by re-signing their key players.  First, the Eagles became the first team to use the franchise tag, on WR DeSean Jackson on March 1, before signing him to a five year-$51 million contract on March 14.

On the same day, the Eagles extended the contract of defensive end Trent Cole, giving him a four year extension worth $53 million. The Eagles brought back defensive tackle Antonio Dixon with a one year deal.

The team also locked up both guards, giving Todd Herremans a three year-$21 million extension, and keeping Evan Mathis away from the Ravens, giving him a five year-$25 million deal.

Besides retaining players, the Eagles signed QB Trent Edwards, who will hopefully provide better insurance than last year’s disaster Vince Young.

In their biggest move of the offseason, the Eagles traded a fourth-round pick for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has been to two Pro Bowls already in his six-year career.

Some were wondering how the Eagles were able to acquire such a talent, who is still only 27 years old.  But the linebacker was recovering from a torn ACL in 2010, and did not fit into the 3-4 scheme of Wade Phillips’s Houston Defense.

The pressure is on the big guy to succeed this season. Picture Source: AP

The Eagles are not expected to make any more significant moves, and they have nine total draft picks in the draft next month.  This includes four picks in the top 88, and they look to capitalize on their depth in the draft.

The Birds have struggled significantly in the draft the past two years, and have watched as teams in their own division have built Super Bowl winning teams through the draft.  This is do or die time for the Eagles, as they need talent that can help the team right away so they team can make big strides next season.

If not, Andy Reid’s leash will all of a sudden get a lot shorter.