Friday, October 31, 2008

Chase Utley has a dirty mouth

After the incident at the All-Star game and what happened today during the victory celebration, it's clear that Chase Utley likes to throw around the F-bombs. It's really just another reason to love the guy.

Cole Hamels reads the Top Ten List on Letterman

Ahh, the perks of being a World Series MVP. Cole Hamels was on Letterman last night and read the Top Ten List. It was the usual mix of moderately funny and not very funny stuff. There were a few jokes on the economy, a Joe the Plumber reference and a dig on the Yankees. Watch below!


Transcription from MLB.com:

10. "Maybe I'll get to be on 'Dancing With The Stars.'"

9. "Can I wear my cup in the offseason?" (Letterman: "Well, sure, you know I'm wearing one right now.")

8. "The Rays collapsed faster than my 401(k)." Hamels then improvised with an expressive "hi-yo" -- clearly making sure Evan Longoria et al know he's joking.

7. "How cool a name is Cole Hamels?"

6. "This must be how the Yankees used to feel." (Letterman: "Hey, wait a minute ...")

5. "Is the Phillie Phanatic hitting on my wife?" Hamels was referring to another former CBS personality, the former Heidi Strobel, who was a contestant on "Survivor: The Amazon."

4. "Seriously, how cool a name is Cole Hamels?"

3. "How can I celebrate when the nation's economic output is the weakest it's been since the third quarter of 2001?"

2. "I hope John McCain will start calling me 'Cole the pitcher.'"

1. "Now maybe I'll get to appear on Leno."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NFL Week 9 Predictions

With Week 9 approaching, I can't believe we are already at the halfway point of this NFL season. I'm too busy celebrating the Phillies championship win to go too in-depth on the games this week, so I'll be shorting things up with just one line about each game. All picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 8-6, .571
Overall Record: 72-45, .615

Byes: Saints, Chargers, Niners, Panthers

Sunday Day Games:

Jets (4-3) @ Bills (5-2) The AFC East race is going to be interesting down the stretch with all four teams in the mix. My pick: Bills get back on track

Lions (0-7) @ Bears (4-3) Easy pick, the Bears will keep the Lions winless. My pick: Bears

Jaguars (3-4) @ Bengals (0-8) Even with an awful quarterback, the Bengals will win a game eventually, just not this week. My pick: Jaguars as they fight their way into playoff contention

Ravens (4-3) @ Browns (3-4) Definitely didn't see the Browns winning last week, they might slowly becoming a decent team. My pick: Browns at home

Packers (4-3) @ Titans (7-0) The Titans won't go undefeated this season, but they'll take this one at home against the Packers. My pick: Titans

Cardinals (4-3) @ Rams (2-5) If the Rams find a way to win this game, they could be a contender in the weak NFC West. My pick: Cardinals put the Rams in their place

Texans (3-4) @ Vikings (3-4) All of the sudden, the Texans look like a pretty good team. My pick: Unfortunately for Houston, I think Adrian Peterson breaks out in this game and the Vikings win

Bucs (5-3) @ Chiefs (1-6) The Chiefs are lucky the Lions and Bengals are so bad otherwise their crappiness would be getting more attention. My pick: Bucs

Dolphins (3-4) @ Broncos (4-3) There's no defense in Denver which will keep the Dolphins in this game. My pick: The Broncos will win in a high-scoring game

Falcons (4-3) @ Raiders (2-5) The Falcons impressed me last week agains the Eagles and they should have no trouble with the Raiders. My pick: Falcons

Cowboys (5-3) @ Giants (6-1) This is a big NFC East showdown that could make things really tighten up in the division. My pick: No Romo means Giants will take this one

Eagles (4-3) @ Seahawks (2-5) The Eagles have fought their way back into the NFC East race and this game should be their 3rd straight win. My pick: No Hasselbeck means an easy Eagles win

Sunday Night Game:

Patriots (5-2) @ Colts (3-4) This match-up has lost much of it's luster, what with Brady out and Manning being off his game this year. My pick: Gotta go with the Colts at home, I still believe the Colts offense has to play better eventually

Monday Night Game:

Steelers (5-2) @ Redskins (6-2) This is clearly the best game of the week. My pick: The Redskins defense should be able to get to Roethlisberger and that will help Washingon win a close game

So those are my picks for Week Nine. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The drought is over! The Phillies win it all!

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
It feels great to type this: the Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 World Champions!!! For the first time in my conscious life, a Philadelphia sports team is a champion. It feels great now, but how big of a deal this is might not settle in for a while.

When I first started this blog back in January, one of the first posts I wrote was titled "The Next Philly Sports Champ". In the article I discussed which of the four major sports teams had the best chance to break the championship drought that our city has suffered through. At the top of the list was the Phillies, and I thought they had a chance to win this year.

I'm so happy I was right! Anyway, now isn't the time for any detailed analysis of the game, it's time to celebrate! Thanks to all who followed the Phillies right here on this site, what a great season it's been!

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2008 WORLD CHAMPS!!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

3 in a row! Flyers thrash Atlanta

(AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
Who needs baseball? Hockey games don't get postponed, so at least one of our Philly sports teams played on Tuesday night. And, boy, did they have a great game.

The Flyers put together their best effort of the season in destroying the Atlanta Thrashers 7-0. While few of their goals were very "pretty", the Flyers got two goal nights from Mike Knuble, Simon Gagne and Joffrey Lupul and Antero Niittymaki pitched a shutout in net. Glen Metropolit also added a goal and two assists. More importantly, the team played better defense and continued to show more energy and jump. Slowly but surely, this team is straightening things out and started to get rewarded in the win column.

Also having a great game on the night was Luca Sbisa who showed great poise in the back end and also added a pair of assists. Sbisa has just learned that he won't be going back to his junior team and will remain with the Flyers for the rest of the season. Although he is only 18, he has proven that he belongs.

The win was the third in a row from the Flyers who now have a record of 3-3-3 which looks pretty good after the slow start they had. While the Rangers are running away with the division with 19 points, the Flyers are right in the mix with a respectable 9 points.

The Flyers were smart to give John Stevens a chance to get this team on the right page and playing with more intensity before trying to make any drastic moves. The team looks a lot more like the playoff team from last year and appears to have avoided a disastrous start to the season.

The wait will continue for another day

Due to more bad weather, Game Five will not resume tonight and will resume Wednesday if it ever stops raining.


This is so frustrating to have to continue to wait to see if the Phillies can end our title wait, but at least if they keep postponing games, Cole Hamels has a chance to re-take the mound.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All wet: rain puts Phillies celebration on hold

We've waited 25 years, what's another day?

Game Five was supposed to be the end of the line for the Rays, what with Cole Hamels taking the mound and Ryan Howard crushing balls left and right. Things looked good early on as the Phillies pounced on Rays starter Scott Kazmir for a pair of runs and Hamels cruised through the first few innings. Then the rains came to ruin our parade, or at least postpone it.

After the Rays tied the game at 2-2 in the 6th inning, the game was delayed and later suspended until Tuesday, weather permitting. That means that the game will resume in the bottom of the 6th with the game tied at 2 and a pinch hitter batting for Cole Hamels.

The Phillies will have to rely on their bullpen to pitch the rest of the way now that Hamels won't be available to continue the game. Luckily, the bullpen is plenty rested and Brad Lidge hasn't pitched Game 1, so the best bullpen in the game should be ready to go.

So, everything resumes again tomorrow at 8 pm. Of course, the forecast shows weather even worse than today for tomorrow, so things might not resume until Wednesday. The wait is going to be excruciating, but so have the last 25 years.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Phillies are one win away from easing 25 years of heartache

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
We may be one day away from what we have all been waiting for for 25 years. The Phillies won Game Four against the Rays 10-2, and now have a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the World Series. With their ace Cole Hamels, who has been absolutely dominant this postseason, taking the hill in Game Five, the Phillies appear poised to win the World Series and end all of the grief and anguish that Philly fans have had to endure for a quarter of a century.

Game Four featured a pair of heroes in Joe Blanton and Ryan Howard. Blanton was a hero on the mound and at the plate, going 6 innings and giving up only a pair of runs while helping his cause at the plate with a home run. Many criticized Pat Gillick for giving up prospects to get an "average" pitcher like Joe Blanton, but Blanton's performance makes Gillick look like a genius. Just think about the options the Phillies would have had if they never acquired Blanton: Adam Eaton, Kyle Kendrick or J.A. Happ. Um, thanks but no thanks.

Howard continues to awaken with the bat as he hit a pair of homers, one in the 4th inning, a 3-run shot that gave the Phils a big lead, and another in the 8th inning to give the Phillies a commanding lead. The Big Man is back, and the Rays don't stand a chance.

One other Phillie that is heating up is Jimmy Rollins. Rollins has come up small repeatedly in these playoffs, but on Sunday night he got on base three times with two doubles and a single. He came around to score all three times and seemed to be at the heart of every rally.

Now the Phils stand on the precipice of ending the Philadelphia title drought. For 25 years, we have all heard about how our teams can't win the big one. We've heard about the Curse of William Penn. We've anguished over Mitch Williams, Ronde Barber, Donovan McNabb puking and Joe Carter. Well, in about 20 hours in South Philadelphia all of that could end. All we need is one more good outing from King Cole. Cole, a longing city turns it's eyes to you.

Welcome back, Brian! Westbrook carries Eagles to win

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
What a difference a healthy Brian Westbrook makes. Westbrook, who hadn't played since Week 5, returned to the field for the Eagles and gave the offense the weapon it desperately needed. Too often the Eagles rely on Donovan McNabb's arm to carry the team, but when Westbrook is healthy they can have a much more balanced run/pass attack, like they did in Sunday's 27-14 win over the Falcons.

Westbrook ran for a career-high 167 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a late 39 yard scamper to put the game away. He also added 42 yards receiving to give him 209 total yards on the day. Westbrook's effort helped the Eagles come close to a 50/50 offensive attack as the team attempted 32 rushes and 34 passes.

With the threat of the running game, the offense opened up for McNabb, who completed passes to 7 different receivers, including the returning Kevin Curtis, who caught 3 passes. McNabb finished with 253 yards through the air and also scrambled for 25 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown.

The Falcons hung tough all game, and even got on the board first. After a scoreless first quarter, rookie quarterback Matt Ryan connected with Roddy White for a 55 yard touchdown pass to give Atlanta a lead. The Eagles offense started slow but eventually found their rhythm near the end of the first half, where they added on 10 points, and it carried over into the 3rd quarter aas the Eagles added a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. The Eagles then weren't able to put the Falcons away until late in them game when they recovered a muffed punt return attempt and Westbrook took it to the house two plays later.

The win was the 100th (including playoffs) for Andy Reid in his 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles. Reid gets a ton of crap from the fans and the media, but he has to be credited for consistently putting a quality team on the field week after week, year after year.

On the injury front, L.J. Smith was knocked out of the game with a concussion after Lawyor Milloy nailed him well after a play was over. I would expect the NFL to fine Milloy for the hit, but that is little consolation to Smith, who may miss a week or two recovering.

The Eagles are now back above .500 at 4-3 on the season. Unfortunately, being in the best division in football, everyone else is still above .500 and the Eagles are still in last place. Both the Redskins and Cowboys won today, so all the Eagles could do was keep pace. The Birds will need to start winning some divisional games if they want to catch up and contend for the playoffs.

In all, it was a good win for the Birds. It was nice to see Westbrook come back and have such a huge impact. The Eagles now have a two game winning streak that they will look to extend against the Seahawks next week.

Eagles/Falcons inactives: Westbrook, Curtis in, Brown out

The Eagles and Falcons announced their inactives for today's game:

Eagles: G Shawn Andrews, WR Reggie Brown, FB Kyle Eckel, QB A.J. Feeley, LB Joe Mays, G Mike McGlynn, TE Matt Schobel, DE Bryan Smith

Falcons: T Sam Baker, S Thomas DeCoud, DE Simon Fraser, LB Tony Gilbert, CB David Irons, WR Laurent Robinson, QB D.J. Shockley, C Alex Stepanovich

Donovan McNabb gets most of his offensive weapons back as Brian Westbrook returns to the lineup and Kevin Curtis makes his 2008 debut. Reggie Brown is now the only player missing from the offense, although he's more of a 3rd receiver with the emergence of DeSean Jackson. Newly acquired Kyle Eckel is inactive and will presumably watch Dan Klecko play fullback to learn his responsibilities. None of the other inactives are surprises for the Eagles.

For the Falcons, I can't say I've ever heard of most of their inactives, although not having Baker will hurt them as the try to protect Matt Ryan from the Eagles blitz packages.

It's time for the Eagles to get back over .500, GO BIRDS!! (Eagles, not Falcons!)

Late heroics give Phillies 2-1 World Series lead

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Hope you stayed up for this one! After blowing a 3-run lead earlier in the game, the Phillies fought back in the bottom of the 9th and, at about 1:49 AM, scored the game-winning run to come away with a 5-4 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

There was no individual hero in the 9th, although some credit has to go to Eric Bruntlett. Bruntlett led off the inning, got hit by a pitch and then advanced all the way to third after a wild pitch and wild throw to second. The Rays then loaded the bases after a pair of walks, leaving Carlos Ruiz at the plate with the bases loaded and no outs. The Rays then employed a 5-man infield, but Ruiz hit a dribbler down the third base line that allowed Bruntlett to score the winning run.

The Phillies needed the late heroics after they blew a 4-1 lead. They were cruising heading into the 7th inning when the entire game turned after the first base umpire blew a call. Carl Crawford hit a squibbler down the first base line that Jamie Moyer scooped up and tossed with his glove hand to first base, clearly getting Crawford by half a step but the ump called him safe. That missed call led to the Rays scoring two runs in the 7th and getting back into the game.

Jamie Moyer still deserves credit for pitching a hell of a game. Moyer used all of his tricks to keep the Rays off-balance and held them to 5 hits in 6 and 1/3rds innings pitched. While he didn't earn the win, he earned a ton of respect for bouncing back with the performance after having a pair of shaky starts earlier in the postseason.

The Phillies also have to be happy with getting a homer from Ryan Howard. Chase Utley hit a homer in the bottom of the 6th and Howard followed him with a homer of his own. If this is a sign of things to come for the big guy, the Rays are in serious trouble.

The Phils blew their chance at earning an easy victory, but they still squeaked out a win in dramatic fashion. Hopefully the momentum will carry them into Game 4, which starts in what seems like only a few hours.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Winning streak! Flyers win 2 in a row

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
The curse of Sarah Palin is finally over. The Flyers won both games in a home-and-home with the Devils on Friday and Saturday to finally get themselves into the win column and out of their early season funk. The two wins puts the Flyers record at 2-3-3 which actually isn't a bad way to start the season.

The big star on Friday night's 6-3 win was Mike Richards, who notched 4 assists. The Flyers did an excellent job of staying out of the penalty box and not giving the Devils a bunch of powerplay chances.

The penalty situation in Saturday's 3-2 overtime win was completely different as each team racks up 40 penalty minutes. There were four fights in the game, including this double-fight:

This was all something that should have been expected given it was the second game in as many days between two rivals. Most of the penalties offset but the Devils still had five powerplay opportunities, scoring on one of them. Jeff Carter scored on a deflection for the game winning goal for the Flyers in overtime.

The Flyers earned both wins without Danny Briere, who will be out 3 to 4 weeks as he recovers from abdominal surgery. In Briere's absence, the Flyers have called up Darroll Powe and re-called Jared Ross and shuffled their top line to include Glen Metropolit at center between Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble. Philly seems like they are a forward short even when Briere returns, unless they plan to play Ross, Powe or Andreas Nodl every game.

The Flyers have finally broken out of their early season slump. If you've followed this team at all, you know how streaky they can be. They started the season with no wins in 5 games so I expect them to run off a 5 game winning streak at some point this season.

Now that the curse of Sarah Palin has been lifted, we can get back to a normal hockey season.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NFL Week 8 Predictions

The league is starting to get very interesting as the division races are starting to take shape and the teams that were surprises in the beginning (Titans, Bills) appear to be for real and the disappointments (Colts, Browns) may just be bad teams.

Let's get right to the Week 8 picks.
Remember, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 9-5, .643
Overall Record: 64-39, .621

Byes: Bears, Broncos, Packers, Vikings

Sunday Day Games:

Bucs (5-2) @ Cowboys (4-3) It looks like no Romo again for the Cowboys this week, and that could spell trouble. Brad Johnson was unable to throw anything down the field and that left the Cowboys offense unable to do anything against the lowly Rams. The Cowboys should just feed Marion Barber the ball and let him carry the load until Romo returns, although that might not work against a good Bucs defense. As much as I want to pick against the Cowboys, I think they limit their turnovers and put it together this week. My pick: Cowboys

Redskins (5-2) @ Lions (0-6) Sorry, not this week, Lions! The Redskins will jump out to an early lead, just like everyone does against the Lions, and ride Clinton Portis to victory. My pick: Redskins

Bills (5-1) @ Dolphins (2-4) It looks like the Wildcat offense has been solved. The Ravens completely shut down the Dolphins college attack so now the rest of the league will watch the tape and copy what Baltimore did. The Bills have a great defense so they won't let the Dolphins do much, anyway. I still can't believe the Bills are this good, but they are cruising their way to a first round playoff bye. My pick: Bills


Rams (2-4) @ Patriots (4-2) Can the Rams make it 3 in a row? Don't look now but St. Louis is creeping into the NFC West picture and could challenge for the division lead if they pull out a few more wins. Unfortunately for the Rams, however, they may be without Steven Jackson, which is basically their entire offense. The Patriots are not as dead as everyone thought they were but they also aren't as good as they looked on Monday Night: the Broncos are just that terrible. The Patriots have injury issues of their own but I still think they put a halt to the Rams turnaround. My pick: Patriots

Chargers (3-4) @ Saints (3-4) Two teams that have a tendency to start slow will face off with the loser taking a big hit in their playoff push. I have no idea what happened to the Saints last week, even Drew Brees looked out of sync. The Chargers looked even worse and it all starts with LaDanian Tomlinson. He has clearly lost a step and that forces the Chargers to rely on Philip Rivers to carry the offense. The difference in this game will be the fact that one of these teams actually has a defense. My pick: Chargers

Chiefs (1-5) @ Jets (3-3) The Chiefs are an absolute mess. They have no quarterback, no defense and a highly paid running back who they would love to get rid of. The Jets aren't a very good football team, either, but even they can piece together enough points to beat the Chiefs. About 10 points would do it. My pick: Jets

Falcons (4-2) @ Eagles (3-3) The stars appear aligned for the Eagles to win this one. The offense will feature all of it's weapons as Brian Westbrook is back and Kevin Curtis is making his 2008 debut. Donovan McNabb will finally have his full compliment of receivers to throw to. The Birds are also coming off a bye and we all know how well Andy Reid's teams do after byes. Their opponent also features a rookie quarterback, something that should have the defense salivating as they will use multiple blitz packages against Matt Ryan to confuse him. The Eagles are also out of the spotlight as the entire city focuses on the Phillies, so that should help them to feel loose. All of these factors add up to an Eagles win, although it should be a close game. The Falcons are a much better team than most people thought they would be. This week is no longer the automatic win that most Eagle fans thought it was at the beginning of the season. My pick: Eagles

Raiders (2-4) @ Ravens (3-3) The Raiders stole one last week against the Jets but their winning streak ends here. No one can seriously think that JaMarcus Russell and the Oakland offense will be able to do anything against the Ravens defense. If Oakland gets an offensive touchdown I will be shocked. My pick: Ravens

Cardinals (4-2) @ Panthers (5-2) This battle for the best non-NFC East team in the NFC should be a good one. The Panthers have an advantage with their defense but it's nearly impossible to stop the Cardinals when both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are healthy. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they also have to pay some defense, something that has been challenging them all season. I expect a big day running for the Stewart/Williams combo that will help to neutralize the Cards attack, much like Carolina did last week against the Saints. My pick: Panthers

Browns (2-4) @ Jaguars (3-3) What's wrong with the Jaguars running game? The bread and butter of the team has completely let them down this year, exposing David Garrard as an average quarterback at best. MJD got it going in Week 6 against the Broncos and I fully expect that to continue against the Browns. Get excited Cleveland, the Brady Quinn era has to be just around the corner. My pick: Jaguars

Bengals (0-7) @ Texans (2-4) The Texans and their suddenly elite group of fantasy football stars look poised to win their 3rd straight and jump into possibly contending for a playoff spot. Pretty good for a team that started 0-4. My pick: Texans

Giants (5-1) @ Steelers (5-1) This one has the makings of a total slug fest. These two teams are very similar, from their punishing running styles to blitzing defenses. Call this one more of a wish than a pick, but I really hope the Steelers can knock off the Giants and tighten things up in the NFC East. Pittsburgh will have Willie Parker back so that should help ease the burden on Big Ben. My pick: Steelers

Seahawks (1-5) @ Niners (2-5) This game is a battle for last place in the NFC West with one team that is terrible because they have no talent and another that is just terrible because of injuries. The Niners did make one smart move this week in finally firing Mike Nolan. Nolan's record as a head coach (18-37) speaks for itself and no amount of fancy suits he wears changes the fact that he shouldn't be running a team. He'll be fine if he goes back to being a coordinator again but we shouldn't ever see him as head coach again. My pick: Niners get a boost from new coach Mike Singletary and win

Monday Night Game:

Colts (3-3) @ Titans (6-0) Indy's playoff chances might be on the line in this one. The Titans already look like they will run away with the division, so the Colts have to aim for a Wild Card spot but they need to focus on getting over .500 first. The Colts demise has been tough to watch because it really has been the offense that has let them down. We all knew that their defense was going to be terrible but Peyton Manning just hasn't gotten the job done. With the playoffs on the line I think Manning is due to pull one out. I can't stick a fork in the Colts just yet, although if they lose this one it's done. My pick: Colts

So those are my picks for Week Eight. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Phillies bats fall silent in Game Two

The Phillies once again left a ton of runners stranded on the base paths and this time they didn't get a dominating pitching performance as the allowed the Rays to tie up the World Series at one game apiece. Philly got on base again and again throughout the game as they managed 9 hits and 4 walks, but, they only scored 2 runs and lost 4-2.

James Shields pitched for the Rays and allowed a number of batters to reach but did well to fight out of every jam. Brett Myers pitched for the Phils and didn't have a terrible game, although he did allow his fair share of runners, too.

The Phillies also have a legitimate beef about the outcome of this game as they were on the wrong end of two bad calls by the home plate umpire. In the 2nd inning, the ump initially called a pitch by Myers strike three until he allowed the first base umpire to overrule him and say the batter didn't swing. The other bad call happened in the 9th as the Phillies tried to fight there way back in the game and Jimmy Rollins clearly got hit by a pitch. The ball grazed his jersey which is, by rule, a hit by pitch. Those two calls came in critical situations when the Rays were starting to build their lead and the Phillies were trying to make their comeback.

While losing this game does hurt the Phils, in the bigger picture they were still able to split the games in Tampa Bay. Everyone should be happy with a 1-1 series tie as we shift back to Philadelphia. If the Phils can just get their bats going when runners are on base, especially since they are now 1 for 28 with runners in scoring position, things will look even better.

The Phillies ride Hamels, Utley to Game One Victory

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
What rust? After a week off, the Phillies followed their usual postseason formula of getting a strong outing by their starting pitcher followed by a lockdown performance by their bullpen and a few timely hits as they took Game One from the Rays, 3-2.

Cole Hamels continued his playoff dominance as he went 7 innings and allowed a pair of runs and struck out 5 batters. Hamels wasn't phased by the long layoff and continues to prove that he should be mentioned amongst the best pitchers in the game. No matter the stage or the importance of the game, Hamels rises to the challenge. He had a few instances in Game One where he got into trouble but more often than not he fought out of it, like the double play he used to get out of the 3rd after he loaded the bases.

The bullpen came through with it's usual performance tonight as Ryan Madsen locked things down in the 8th and Brad Lidge saved yet another playoff game by taking care of the Rays in order in the 9th. Every lead, no matter how small, is safe with this pen.

Offensively the Phillies didn't do too much, but they still had a few big hits. Chase Utley hit a 2-run shot in the first inning to help the Phils jump out to an early lead. The other run scored by the Phillies came on a Carlos Ruiz ground out. The Phils had plenty of other opportunities to tack on more runs with runners in scoring position but you have to credit Scott Kazmir and the Rays bullpen as they fought their way out of jams.

Game One is in the books and the Phillies are one step closer to a title. Game Two is in Tampa Bay tomorrow night with Brett Myers taking the hill against James Shields. The Phillies have already accomplished a lot by earning at least a split in Tampa against a team that is great at home, but it's not like they will let up because of that. You never know what can happen later in the series, so they need to earn wins wherever they can get them.

Three more to go, GO PHILS!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Phillies vs. Rays: World Series Breakdown

It's been well-documented how long-suffering us Philadelphia sports fans are. 25 years since a major title (the Soul don't count) has done a lot to make us all pretty jaded when it comes to our sports teams, but even the most jaded Philly fan has jumped on board with this Phillies team. Granted, we've had teams in the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA Finals and even the World Series in the last 15 years, but there is something about this Phillies team that has sucked us right back into being believers. They are a group of likable guys who play hard and don't accept losing, qualities that this city embraces. On the eve of the World Series that might change all of our lives, especially for someone my age who was too young to remember the Phillies and Sixers titles in the 80's, it's time to break down the two teams position-by-position and see how the Phillies stack up.

Starting Pitching:
Phillies: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton
Rays: Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine

Both teams will feature 4-man rotations. The Phillies have a slight edge in the first two games with Cole Hamels being the best pitcher in the series and Brett Myers and James Shields basically being a wash. From there, ALCS MVP Matt Garza appears to have a huge advantage over Jamie Moyer who has looked shaky at best this postseason. Moyer will be facing the type of team he loves to dominate, however, as the Rays are a young team that might not have the patience to wait on his pitches. Joe Blanton has been great this postseason and he could be the key to the Phillies chances. If the Phils manage to win the first two games and then drop the third, just like they did against the Dodgers, the series could hinge on how well Blanton holds things down. If he does anywhere near as well as he did against L.A., the Phils will be in command of the series. Game 7, if there is one, favors the Rays if it's Garza against Moyer again, so the Phillies can't let the series get to that point. Edge: Phillies, Hamels' dominance puts them over the top

Bullpen:
Phillies: Phillies: Brad Lidge, J.C. Romero, Ryan Madsen, Chad Durbin
Rays: David Price, J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler, Chad Bradfors, Grant Balfour

The Rays appear to be using a closer-by-comittee approach, and it has worked for them so far. Except for the Game 5 meltdown against the Red Sox, Joe Maddon has done a good job of utilizing his bullpen and putting the right pitcher in the right situation. Having the 23 year-old Price on the mound to close out the Red Sox was a gutsy call that really paid off for the Rays. The Phillies, on the other hand, have shown time and again that they have the best bullpen in baseball. People keep worrying that Brad Lidge has to blow a save sometime, but I don't see any signs of him melting down yet. Edge: Phillies

Catcher:
Phillies: Carlos Ruiz
Rays: Dioner Navarro

Navarro hasn't exactly been on fire with the bat in the postseason but he clearly has an edge over Ruiz at the plate, although Ruiz has shown a knack for getting a big hit now and then. Both are about the same defensively and really know how to handle their pitchers. Edge: Rays

Infield:
Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz
Rays: Carlos Pena, Akinori Iwamura, Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria

The Phillies have the best infield in baseball. Even with Howard struggling with his power, all four of these guys make big contributions at the plate and in the field. Well, maybe not so much in the field for Howard. The Rays have two All-Star caliber players at the corners but their middle infielders, while good in the field, aren't scary at the plate. If I compared them position-by-position in the infield, the Phillies would win every position except third base, but the gap isn't as great as that makes it sound. Edge: Phillies

Outfield:
Phillies: Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth
Rays: Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Gabe Gross/Rocco Baldelli

You could have made a very strong case for Victorino as the NLCS MVP and he's been the Phillies best position player by far this postseason. He makes nearly every big hit and has made a number of great catches in the field. Burrell and Werth have also both contributed but they may need to do more for the Phils to win. The Rays have a better defensive outfield than the Phils, but they can't match up offensively. The right field tandem of Gross and Baldelli isn't great, but Maddon puts them in positions to succeed. Edge: Phillies

DH:
Phillies: Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Geoff Jenkins
Rays: Cliff Floyd

Charlie Manuel has been very quiet as to who his DH is going to be in Games 1 and 2. My guess is that Greg Dobbs will get the call, although Charlie might be tempted to save him for key at-bats later in the game. I seriously doubt that Burrell will play any DH, although it would make a lot of sense. The Rays have the advantage here simply because they actually have guys on the roster who are used to being designated hitters. Edge: Rays

Bench:
Phillies: Dobbs, Stairs, Jenkins, So Taguchi, Eric Bruntlett
Rays: Fernando Perez, Willy Aybar

The Phillies bench will be stripped of some of its effectiveness with Dobbs being the DH. Jenkins would then step into the primary pinch hitter role leaving not too many other options. The Rays have some speed and versatility coming off their bench so they have the advantage here. Edge: Rays

Manager:
Phillies: Charlie Manuel
Rays: Joe Maddon

As much as myself and the rest of Philadelphia have fallen in love with Charlie Manuel, Maddon is the better tactical manager who knows how and when to use his guys. Maddon likes to think with his head while Charlie thinks with his gut. His gut has been right an awful lot but I don't want to see what happens if it's wrong. Edge: Rays

My prediction:
By my highly unscientific breakdown, the Rays and Phillies are completely even with each team having the edge at 4 positions. The Phillies have the more important advantages on the mound and at the plate, so they appear to be the better team on paper. It's going to be interesting to see how this series starts off with the Rays coming off no rest and the Phillies being so rested they are probably rusty. All the Phils will need is a typical Cole Hamels outing and they will quickly shake off all that rust, however. Call me a homer if you will, but I think the Phillies will win in 6 games. The time has finally come for us to have our parade. The Rays are a solid team but the Phillies are playing like a team on a mission that refuses to lose. It's just too bad that they won't likely win the series in Philly because the celebration at the Bank would be incredible.

After 25 years of suffering, we are 4 wins away from a Philadelphia sports championship! Do we even know how to celebrate a championship if they win one?

Eagles bring in a new fullback and cut J.R. Reed

After trying Tony Hunt and Dan Klecko at fullback, the Eagles decided it was finally time to bring in someone who can actually play the position. They signed former Patriot Kyle Eckel, a Philly native, for the remainder of the season. To make room for Eckel, the team released safety J.R. Reed.

Eckel played 12 games last season with the Patriots and ran for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was waived by the Patriots back in September. Eckel should bring some stability to the fullback position that isn't a huge part of the Eagles offense, but it is still going to be nice to have someone who can actually block in the backfield. Should help out on all those chances at the goal line.

J.R. Reed has been a useful player but he is a victim of numbers. Quintin Demps has shown enough to slide into the second string strong safety spot that is now vacated. Reed has been released and brought back by the Eagles before so this may not be the last time we see him with the Birds. He is a good enough player that he will be competing for a job somewhere next season.

Reed also apparently wore a Tampa Bay Rays jersey yesterday so he deserves to get cut!

Phillies vs. Rays World Series pitching matchups set

The Phillies and Rays have announced their starters for the first four games of the World Series:

Game One: Phillies (Hamels) @ Rays (Kazmir)
Game Two: Phillies (Myers) @ Rays (Shields)
Game Three: Rays (Garza) @ Phillies (Moyer)
Game Four: Rays (Sonnanstine) @ Phillies (Blanton)

The Phillies figure to pitch Hamels, Myers and Moyer again in games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary.

The pitching matchups in the first four games seem to slightly favor the Phillies. Cole Hamels is the best pitcher on either team, so he figures to have an edge over Scott Kazmir. Myers and Shields are pretty even but Matt Garza has an edge over Jamie Moyer, who hasn't looked good yet this postseason. Of course, a young team like Tampa Bay is just the type of team that Moyer gets to swing out of their shoes at his junk pitches. Joe Blanton figures to have the advantage in Game Four if he keeps pitching the way he has been.

Look for my complete breakdown of the series later today.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flyers send Downie, Ross to the minors

Five games into the season, the Flyers remain winless and continue to search for answers on how they can improve their play. They made a few personnel moves today, demoting forwards Steve Downie and Jared Ross to the Phantoms and bringing Andreas Nodl up to the big club.

Downie's demotion was one I called for after his effort Saturday night against the Sharks:

"Steve Downie needs to go play for the Phantoms for a while. He had two penalties on the night, including a dumb slash, and had only 5 minutes of ice time. He needs to get his head straightened out with the Phantoms."

Downie has yet to score a point this season and has played on a different line seemingly every night. He needs to go find some consistency with the Phantoms and hopefully he can be a useful player sometime down the road.

Ross will also go the Phantoms. He was a surprise addition to the club but didn't do anything to distinguish himself in his two games played. Nodl is younger and has more upside.

The Flyers will likely call up one more forward to add to the mix because they now have only 12 forwards on the roster. It's probably too soon for Claude Giroux to come up, so look for the Flyers to bring someone like Darroll Powe up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rays vs. Phillies for the title!

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Look back on any preseason baseball predictions and I guarantee no one predicted this. The Phillies were an unlikely choice to make the World Series while the Rays were a downright impossibility to make it.

The Rays managed to outlast the defending champion Red Sox in Sunday's 7th game through an amazing pitching performance by starting pitcher Matt Garza and their bullpen, which gave up a grand total of 3 hits. The Rays won 3-1 and advance to the World Series to take on the Phillies.

The Phillies finally know their opponent for the World Series that will begin on Wednesday. The Phils will travel to Tampa Bay where hopefully the Rays find a way to sell all of their seats!

Here is the tentative World Series schedule:

Game One: Wednesday, October 22nd: Phillies @ Rays, 8 pm
Game Two: Thursday, October 23rd: Phillies @ Rays, 8 pm
Game Three: Saturday, October 25th: Rays @ Phillies, 8 pm
Game Four: Sunday, October 26th: Rays @ Phillies, 8 pm
Game Five: Monday, October 27th: Rays @ Phillies, 8 pm
Game Six: Wednesday, October 29th: Phillies @ Rays, 8 pm
Game Seven: Thursday, October 30th: Phillies @ Rays, 8 pm

I'll have more on the World Series later. For now, congratulations Rays! You've had an unlikely run and hopefully the Phillies will be the ones to end it!

Flyers remain winless after blowing 2 goal lead to the Sharks

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Despite a better effort for the Flyers last night in San Jose, the result was still the same. The Flyers, who had a 3-1 lead at one point, lost 5-4 to the Sharks in overtime. While the Flyers did manage to earn a point against one of the best teams in the league, it's already the time of the season where they can ignore moral victories and only be happy with actual W's.

The game was filled with both positives and negatives for the Flyers.

Positives:

-The reunited Simon Gagne/Danny Briere/Mike Knuble line played well with Briere scoring 2 goals and Gagne having several good scoring chances. It seems like whoever Briere plays with continues to have a hot hand.

-Antero Niittymaki, despite giving up 5 goals, had a good game. None of the goals were his fault except one where he gave up a juicy rebound to Joe Pavelski in the third period. Niitty made several big stops throughout the game, including an amazing diving save in the third. He faced a barrage of 45 shots and saved 40 of them, basically if he could see it, he stopped it.

-Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn played great as they were reunited as the top defensive unit. The rest of the defensemen? Not so much.

-You could tell the Flyers were making a concerted effort to play the Sharks tough. They had a bunch of hits and got into several scraps after the whistle.

Negatives:

-The Flyers defense is in shambles. Besides the top two, the Flyers are relying on an 18 year old, a guy who didn't play in the NHL last year and 2 AHL-quality players. Luca Sbisa and Ossi Vaananen have played well at times but they should be the teams 3rd pairing of D-men, not 2nd. Andrew Alberts and Steve Eminger are not NHL caliber players and they made a ton of mistakes against the Sharks. The Flyers need to do something to shore up their D because Randy Jones and Ryan Parent aren't coming back any time soon. They need to make a trade to bring in someone who can be a top 4 defensemen, even if it means trading one of their better forwards.

-Too many penalties. The Flyers had 27 penalty minutes on the night, including 11 minors and 1 fighting major. They gave the Sharks a ton of power play chances and they did well to kill some of them but they still gave up three power play goals.

-Steve Downie needs to go play for the Phantoms for a while. He had two penalties on the night, including a dumb slash, and had only 5 minutes of ice time. He needs to get his head straightened out with the Phantoms.

The Flyers have 3 days off now before they face the Sharks again, this time in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see if the team makes any personnel changes or if they continue to tinker with the lines to find the right combination. You can only re-arrange the lines so much before you realize that maybe this team simply needs some new players. We'll see if they come from the minors or if they come via a trade.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flyers will feature new lines as they look for first win in San Jose

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
The Flyers are lucky the Phillies are still playing because most of Philadelphia either hasn't noticed or doesn't care about how poorly the Flyers are playing. After 4 games, the Flyers have yet to win and have been outscored 17-10. Pretty much the only thing going for them right now is how well Simon Gagne (4 goals) and Mike Richards (3 goals) have been playing and how quickly Luca Sbisa has adjusted to the NHL. Everything else seems broken, from terrible defensive play to average goaltending.

In an effort to shake things up, coach John Stevens will be mixing up the forward lines when the Flyers take on the Sharks on Saturday night:

Gagne - Briere - Knuble
Hartnell - Richards - Downie
Upshall - Carter - Lupul
Cote - Metropolit - Asham

All the changes seem to make sense as Stevens tries to find combos that will work. He is splitting up the top line, the only one that has consistently been scoring, in an effort to spread out the offensive attack. Richards drops down to the second line while Danny Briere moves back to center on the top line. Mike Knuble moves up to the first line and Steve Downie moves up to the second line and over to the wing.

Let's hope this line shake-up works because if it doesn't the next step will be making trades or demoting players. We know that this group can win, it's simply a matter of them picking up the intensity. Hopefully they find their energy soon or this team could be headed for another season like 06/07.

Friday, October 17, 2008

NFL Week 7 predictions

With the Eagles on a bye this week, it's a good chance for Birds fans to sit back and watch the rest of the league. It will be fun to root for the rest of the NFC East to all fall flat again this week.

Let's get right to the picks for Week 7.
As always, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week:
8-6, .571
Overall Record: 55-34, .618

Byes: Falcons, Eagles, Cardinals, Jaguars

Sunday Day Games:

Chargers (3-3) @ Bills (4-1) This is a big chance for the Bills to prove that they are a serious contender in the AFC. While the Chargers have hardly been a powerhouse this season, they are still the most talented team in the conference. Expect a low scoring game with these two solid defenses. My pick: The Chargers will knock down the upstart Bills

Vikings (3-3) @ Bears (3-3) This one is a battle for first place in the NFC Central. I'm as surprised as you are that the Vikings are actually tied for first place right now. It just shows that the NFC Central is as bad as the NFC East is good. For the Bears, Kyle Orton has played well this season, so well that we haven't heard anything about Rex Grossman in a long time. Can't say that's a bad thing. My pick: Bears

Steelers (4-1) @ Bengals (0-6) Last week I picked the Bengals thinking they have to get a win eventually. Well, I won't be fooled again this week, especially with Carson Palmer still out. The Steelers may also have Willie Parker back this week and that should further ensure a W for Pittsburgh. My pick: Steelers

Titans (5-0) @ Chiefs (1-4) Okay, when the season started, who thought the Titans would be the last remaning undefeated team? They won't be undefeated for much longer and this NFL season has been pretty screwy but there is no way I can live with myself if I pick the Chiefs. My pick: Titans

Cowboys (4-2) @ Rams (1-4) As I am writing this it appears that Tony Romo will tough it out and try to play through a broken pinky. Wow, what a gamer. Guys play with broken ribs and concussions but Romo will really be able to prove his toughness by playing through his pinky problems. Regardless of whether he plays or not, the Rams are still an awful football team that the Cowboys shouldn't have any trouble with. The addition of Roy Williams should help, although I wonder how Dallas will keep T.O., Whitten, Barber and Williams all happy. There simply aren't enough touches to go around. My pick: Cowboys

Ravens (2-3) @ Dolphins (2-3) This is the first tough pick after a series of no-brainers. I have to hand it to the Dolphins, they continue to mix things up with their offense, keeping the opposition guessing. Miami also plays tough, hard-nosed football, just the way Bill Parcells likes it. The Ravens defense has returned this season but the offense looks like it's the same old plodding attack we have seen for years. My pick: Dolphins at home

Niners (2-4) @ Giants (4-1) After a shocking loss to the Browns last week, expect the Giants to bounce back in a big way against the Niners. The biggest problem with the Niners continues to be the quarterback position. I think the league has figured out J.T. O'Sullivan and his tendency to throw interceptions at the most inopportune times. My pick: San Francisco isn't a team that can be walked all over, but the Giants should be able to win by two touchdowns.

Saints (3-3) @ Panthers (4-2) The Panthers might be the best non-NFC East team in the conference and the Saints offense has been amazing this season so this should be a good game. I think the biggest factor will be how well the Panthers defense, which has looked good this year, can slow down Drew Brees. Marques Colston may or may not return but I don't think it will make a difference because he doesn't play defense. Look for the Panthers to run the ball and control the clock which will neutralize the Saints attack. My pick: Panthers

Lions (0-5) @ Texans (1-4) By trading Roy Williams and announcing Jon Kitna was done for the year, the Lions have effectively given up on the season. The Texans season just started as they finally got a win last week, but they are the best one win team I have ever seen. Even though they only have one more win than the Lions, they are worlds ahead of them in terms of talent. My pick: Texans

Jets (3-2) @ Raiders (1-4) This game will be closer than you think, but really, who do you trust more, Brett Favre or JaMarcus Russell? This is a no-brainer pick no matter where it's played. My pick: Jets

Colts (3-2) @ Packers (3-3) The Colts have risen from the dead, finally winning a game in a convincing manner. They had no business beating either the Vikings or the Texans earlier in the season, so last week was really their first "real" win. Losing Joseph Addai won't hurt them much because he wasn't really doing anything anyway. The Packers will need to win to keep pace in the NFC North but I'm not sure Aaron Rodgers has it in him yet to knock off a top team. My pick: Colts

Browns (2-3) @ Redskins (4-2) No matter what the Browns did last week, this game is still a no-brainer pick. The Redskins will look to bounce back from a bad loss and the Browns will likely fade back to how they played in the beginning of the season. I expect Clinton Portis, the best back in the league right now, to run all over the Browns and the Redskins to win this one convincingly. If they don't, the Eagles will have their target to shoot for as they look to climb back up in the NFC East. My pick: Redskins

Sunday Night Game:

Seahawks (1-4) @ Bucs (4-2) The Seahawks aren't doing it as blatantly as the Lions, but they too have given up on this season. The injuries have piled up on them and they are basically going to pack it in and wait until next year when Matt Hasselbeck is fully healthy. The Bucs aren't lighting the world on fire, but there is no way I am picking a Seattle team that is choosing between Charlie Frye and Seneca Wallace for their starting QB spot. My pick: Bucs

Monday Night Game:

Broncos (4-2) @ Patriots (3-2) This is a tough one to predict. On the one hand, the Broncos have a terrible defense that even Matt Cassel should be able to pick apart. On the other, the Broncos offense should be able to have their way with the slow Patriots D. I guess it's safe to say that this one should be high-scoring, so start all your fantasy guys in this one. My pick: Patriots. I really want to pick against the Pats, but I think Belichick finds a way to patch together a win here.

So those are my picks for Week Seven. If you agree or disagree or have picks of your own, feel free to leave comments!

Phillies must wait for opponent as Red Sox pull of thrilling win

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
The Rays appeared to have their World Series ticket punched as they led 7-0 against the Red Sox in the 7th inning. Boston proved otherwise after homers by David Ortiz and J.D. Drew brought them back into the game and then the Sox won in the bottom of the 9th, 8-7. It was a miraculous comeback for a team that has had many in their history and will keep the ALCS going. The Rays still lead 3-2 and they are headed back home, but you have to believe the Red Sox have all the momentum right now.

For the Phillies, it means they can continue to sit back and relax as it appears the Rays and Red Sox have a lot more to settle. Let them beat up on each other and let the Phillies take care of the worn-out winner.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On to the World Series!

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Wow. It's still hard to believe. Your Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 National League Champions! For the first time in 15 years, the Phillies are heading back to the World Series. The Phils are now 4 wins away from winning it all and ending the long championship drought in this city. They are 4 wins away from having the biggest parade Philadelphia has ever seen.

The Phillies clinched the series with a dominating 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5 to win the series 4 games to 1. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a homer and the Phillies, aided by a few Dodgers miscues in the field, added 2 runs in both the 3rd and 5th innings to coast to a comfortable lead. Cole Hamels and the bullpen took care of the rest, with King Cole giving up only one run in 7 innings and the bullpen doing it's usual shutdown job.

The Phillies proved to be the much better team than the Dodgers for this series. They had different heroes nearly every night, from Shane Victorino to Matt Stairs to Jimmy Rollins. They had great pitching performances nearly every time out as well and their bullpen continued it's domination. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were a one man team. Manny Ramirez was amazing throughout the series, hitting over .500 and getting a big hit whenever the team needed one. Fortunately for the Phils, Manny can't pitch and he could only come to the plate once every 9 batters and the rest of the Dodgers failed to come through at the plate or on the mound.

Now the Phillies wait to see who their next opponent will be. The Rays have a big 3-1 series lead over the Red Sox but that series is far from over. Boston won't go down without a fight and they might make it a series yet. No matter who the Phils play, the American League team has home field advantage because of their All-Star Game win.

Here is the tentative schedule for the World Series:

Game One: Wednesday, October 22nd: NL @ AL
Game Two: Thursday, October 23rd: NL @ AL
Game Three: Saturday, October 25th: AL @ NL
Game Four: Sunday, October 26th: AL @ NL
Game Five: Monday, October 27th: AL @ NL
Game Six: Wednesday, October 29th: NL @ AL
Game Seven: Thursday, October 30th: NL @ AL

We'll worry about who the opponent is later. For now, we all need to celebrate the Phillies and all they have accomplished this season. Not only have they continued to win, they have been one of the most fun teams to follow and are really a likable group of guys.

Let's hope they have four more wins in them.

Flyers remain winless after overtime loss to Pittsburgh

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
The Flyers played their best game of the season on Tuesday night against the Penguins, unfortunately the results were pretty much the same as they have been all season. Philly lost 3-2 in overtime when Pascal Dupuis netted the game winner with 10.8 seconds left in the overtime period. The Flyers did earn their first point of the season with the tie but, 3 games into the season, they still have yet to earn a win.

There were several positives for the Flyers tonight:

*Simon Gagne scored on a deflection goal. He has 3 goals in 3 games so far this season and appears fully back. His line with Mike Richards and Danny Briere continues to look good shift after shift.

*Luca Sbisa logged a ton of quality minutes on the power play and in crucial overtime situations. Sbisa is the real deal and hopefully the Flyers have seen enough to keep him around all season.

*Despite not looking great on the final goal, Antero Niittymaki played well in net, making 25 saves. The other two goals weren't his fault.

*Riley Cote also had a great fight in the game against Eric Godard. It was a nice long bout with no clear winner. Video below:


The Flyers also had their share of negatives:

*The power play failed to capitalize on 6 chances. They had some good puck movement at times but they couldn't bury the puck.

*Too many penalties. The Flyers had 17 penalty minutes and found themselves on the penalty kill 6 times. You are playing with fire when you give the Pens that many chances, fortunately Pittsburgh only scored once with the man advantage.

*Does Joffrey Lupul know the season has started? The guy signed a huge deal this offseason and he has barely come to play so far this year, notching zero points and a -2 rating.

The Flyers continue on the road this week with games against the Avalanche and Sharks. They need to find a way to get out of this skid they are in because they are already in a huge 9 point hole behind the undefeated Rangers in the Atlantic Division. The season is still very young but the Flyers could sure use a win, and fast.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Eagles release Tony Hunt, sign linebacker White

The great Tony Hunt fullback experiment is now officially over and so is his tenure with the team. Hunt, a running back the Eagles tried to make into a fullback for the first 5 weeks of the season, was released by the team today. Hunt had already been removed from the fullback spot and replaced with Dan Klecko, so he was basically the teams 4th string running back when Brian Westbrook is healthy. Hunt flashed a lot of promise in the preseason but he wasn't going to get any playing time on this team.

Hunt was replaced on the 53 man roster by Tracy White, a free agent linebacker who had been released by the Packers last week. White is expected to contribute mostly on special teams and won't likely get any reps at linebacker. He's a 6 year veteran so he will hopefully bring leadership and stability to the special teams group.

On a day where the Cowboys acquired WR Roy Williams, neither of these moves are that exciting by the Birds. The Eagles continue to make minor tweaks to the roster rather than going for the big name player. Hunt will likely catch on with another team fairly soon, but he won't make the Eagles regret letting him walk.

Victorino, Stairs give Phillies commanding 3-1 series lead

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
The Phillies are one win away from the World Series. For most of Game 4 it didn't seem like that would be the case.

After jumping out to an early lead in Game 4, the Dodgers chipped away until the Phillies found themselves trailing 5-3 entering the top of the 8th. The game then quickly turned in the Phillies favor as they hit a pair a 2-run homers, one by Shane Victorino and the other by Matt Stairs, to give themselves a 7-5 lead, which the bullpen held onto to give the Phillies a huge 3-1 series lead.

The two heroes of Game 4, Victorino and Stairs, couldn't be more opposite. Victorino, an everyday player, is a little guy who has come up big for the Phillies again and again in the playoffs as his 11 RBIs attest to. Victorino has been far and away the Phillies MVP so far in the playoffs. The 40 years old Stairs, a bench player, is a huge slugger who stepped to the plate for only the 3rd time of the entire playoffs and absolutely crushed a Jonathan Broxton pitch deep into the Los Angeles night. Credit Pat Gillick with having the foresight to pick up a hitter like Stairs near the August 31st trade deadline. He guessed correctly that the Phils would need a big left-handed bat at some point in the playoffs.

Credit for the win should also be given to the Phils bullpen who recovered after Chad Durbin gave up a pair of runs to shut the Dodgers down in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. This bullpen is unbeatable with a lead and it's so comforting to know that if the team has a lead near the end of the game, they will win every time. It's definitely a different feeling then we are used to having in recent Phillies history and even going all the way back to the last time they made the World Series when Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams was in the closer role.

The Phillies now have a huge, but not insurmountable, 3-1 series lead. They are in a great position considering they have their best pitcher, Cole Hamels, taking the mound on Wednesday night in Los Angeles with a trip to the World Series on the line. Should Hamels falter, the Phillies would then still have two more opportunities to clinch the series back in Philly.

Of course, sometimes the 4th win in a series is the most difficult one to get. With the way this Phillies team is playing with a new hero stepping up every night, it seems like nothing can slow them down.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Flyers acquire defenseman Alberts

In an effort to patch up their thin blueline, the Flyers acquired defenseman Andrew Alberts from the Boston Bruins in exchange for Ned Lukacevic and a 4th round pick in the 2009 draft. Alberts has spent his first three seasons in the NHL with the Bruins, tallying 19 points in 184 games. Alberts is a big, physical player who fits right into the mold of a typical bruising Flyers blueliner. He's a bit slow but he should jump right into the lineup and leave Lasse Kukkonen on the bench where he belongs.

Lukacevic was originally acquired by the Flyers this past offseason when they traded Denis Gauthier to the Los Angeles Kings. Lukacevic isn't much of a prospect although he could make a decent defensive forward some day.

With the injuries to Ryan Parent and Randy Jones, the Flyers had to make a move to get help on defense. While Alberts isn't a huge talent, he's at least a serviceable player who can log some quality minutes. Alberts also should already be familiar to the Flyers since Scott Hartnell absolutely destroyed him last season in this hit that got him suspended:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Flyers lose season opener, Randy Jones

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Well, that's not the best way to start a season.

The 2008/2009 campaign started off a little rough for the Flyers, what with Sarah Palin receiving a mountain of boos (click here to see it) and the Flyers falling behind by 4 goals in the first period, but the Flyers were able to fight back to makes things interesting before they fell to the Rangers, 4-3.

The Flyers got more bad news today as they learned that Randy Jones will be having surgery and he will be out for 12 to 16 weeks. Along with Ryan Parent, that makes two Flyers defensemen who need surgery and will miss a significant amount of time. The Flyers already had some questions about their blueline but now they might have a serious issue.

As for the game, the Rangers jumped out early and silenced the crowd with two goals in the first 5 minutes as the Flyers played back on their heels. The defensemen, which had the look of a group simply thrown together, struggled to slow down the Rangers attack as the Blue Shirts added two more goals later in the period. Martin Biron also looked terrible out of the gate, managing only 10 saves on 14 shots. Of course, it's hard for a goaltender to look good when he's being peppered with shots. Biron was pulled for Antero Niittymaki after the 4th goal and Niitty took over from there, stopping every shot he faced and giving the Flyers a chance to make a comeback.

And come back they did. Mike Richards fought near the end of the first period and that seemed to energize the Flyers, who bounced back with 2 goals in the second period, one by Scott Hartnell and the other by the returning Simon Gagne. Gagne made a nice effort in scoring his first goal since January 29th and appears to be playing at full strength with very little rust. Mike Richards later added a goal 5 minutes into the third period as the Flyers made things interesting. Unfortunately they were never able to sustain a strong attack and the Rangers held on for the win.

Three thoughts stick with me after the first game. First of all, the defense needs some help. Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn are the only returning regulars and they are the only two that looked comfortable out on the ice. Steve Eminger, Luca Sbisa, Ossi Vaananen and Lasse Kukkonen all have a lot of work to do to make the Flyers back line a better unit. Sbisa looked shaky in the beginning but got better as the game went on, Vaananen's play was at least acceptable but Eminger and Kukkonen looked really lost out there.

The other issue that I hope doesn't develop with the Flyers is another goalie controversy. Niittymaki outplayed Biron tonight and he also played well for the Phantoms earlier in the week, meaning he's the hot goaltender right now while has Biron struggled so far, but let's hope it's just rust. The last thing we need is another 1 and 1A situation in Philly, because when two goaltenders share time it never works out.

Lastly, to end things on a positive note, the Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Danny Briere line looked great. Let's hope these three stick together because they consistently put together good shifts and showed some solid chemistry.

While tonight's game wasn't the best way to start a season, at least the Flyers showed some fight after falling behind early. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back in their next game. I also expect them to try to find some answers for their blueline because with Jones and Parent out, not to mention Derian Hatcher, things seem awfully thin back there. An 18 year old and a couple of guys who belong in the AHL won't cut it. Maybe they let go of Bryan Berard a little too soon.

Flyers fans boo Sarah Palin

Looks like Obama might win Pennsylvania. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin dropped the puck at the Flyers home opener and got just the reaction everyone would expect from Flyers fans: boos! Yeah, there was a mix of cheering and booing, but from what I could hear, the crowd reacted much more negatively then positively. The Flyers arena was pumped full of music as she was being introduced, likely because they knew what kind of reaction she would get, and that helped to drown out the crowd's reaction.

Here's a video of the whole ceremony:


I still don't understand why the Flyers would put themselves in this situation for their home opener. Talk about a negative way to start a season.

Flyers drop the puck tonight!

With everything else that's been going on, it's easy to forget that the Flyers will start their season tonight against the Rangers. For better or for worse, Sarah Palin will be dropping the first puck for the 2008/2009 Flyers season, a season that looks very promising as the Flyers try to build off their great playoff run of last year.

Here are some of the new things to look for as the Flyers take the ice tonight:

Gagne is back Former 40 goal scorer Simon Gagne returns to the ice for the first time since February 10th. He looked smooth and seems ready to go after a solid exhibition season.

New First Line With Gagne's return, the Flyers will have a new look on their top line. Mike Richards will now center the line with Gagne on his left and Danny Briere on his right. Briere has played center for most of his professional career but now moves to the wing. If this line stays together, and I have my doubts that it will, it should be extremely potent. It's a nice combination of toughness, grit and speed that should pile up a ton of points.

Other new forward lines The shake-up at the top and the loss of R.J. Umberger has forced the Flyers to try out some new lines combinations this season. Here are their opening game lines, courtesy of Bill Meltzer:

Gagne - Richards - Briere
Upshall - Carter - Knuble
Hartnell - Metropolit - Lupul
Cote - Downie - Asham

Jeff Carter moves up to the second line and newcomer Glen Metropolit takes over on the third line. The most intriguing line out of all of them is the 4th line. Riley Cote, Steve Downie and Arron Asham are all tough guys who will be a real pain to play against. I'm not sure how much they are going to score but they will get under the skin of their opponents on a nightly basis.

Defense pairings With the injuries to Derian Hatcher, Ryan Parent and Randy Jones, the Flyers will feature a very inexperienced back line for the first part of the season. The injuries are such a problem for their depth that they have been forced to split up their top pairing of Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn:

Timonen - Väänänen
Coburn - Eminger
Sbisa - Kukkonen

Rookie Luca Sbisa makes his NHL debut today as well. Get a good look at him while you can because he probably won't be on the big club for more than a week or two. Don't count on Timonen and Coburn to be split up for too long, that unit was way too effective last season.

Jared Ross Who? Apparently Ross has made the Flyers roster. Ross is a 26 year old center who will get some ice time if Downie continues to struggle with injuries. Ross spent last season with the Phantoms and picked up 62 points in 67 games.

Enjoy the game tonight! In case you didn't know, you can watch it online for free at NHL.com. They have a new NHL Gamecenter feature where you can watch the games online and they have a free preview for a few days.

If anyone is interested in participating in a Live Game Blog for today's game that I would host, leave me a comment in this post or drop me an email at allthingsphillysports@gmail.com. The Live Blog's were very popular during last years playoff run and I plan to do them again from time to time. I'm trying to gauge if there is interest in doing one now or if I should wait until later in the season. It's a great way to follow the game and have some great discussions with fellow Flyers fans.

Go Flyers!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Myers' bat carries Phillies to 2-0 series lead

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
To win a World Series, teams need unlikely heroes to step up and make big plays. The Phillies had the most unlikely of heroes in Game Two when their pitcher led the team to an 8-5 victory over the Dodgers with his performance at the plate.

Of course, had that pitcher had a better night on the mound, the Phils wouldn't have needed him to come through at the plate like he did. Brett Myers started the game for the Phillies and gave up 5 runs in 5 innings of work, including a 3-run homer by Manny Ramirez. With the bat, Myers had as many RBIs as Manny, driving in 3 runs and scoring twice on 3 hits. Myers did his damage in three consecutive innings as he singled home a run in the second, singled in two more in the 3rd and added another single in the 4th.

This is the second time this postseason that Myers has been a hero at the plate. Against the Brewers in Game Two of the NLDS, Myers was able to have two quality at-bats against C.C. Sabathia where he worked the count and forced Sabathia to throw a ton of pitches. He earned a walk in that game that helped the Phillies beat the Brewers ace.

To put Myers' night in a little more perspective, Myers now has 3 RBIs in the playoffs which is triple the number of RBIs that Ryan Howard has been able to accumulate in 6 postseason games. Howard had 146 RBIs in the regular season but has only one so far in the playoffs.

Myers' hits were just part of a pair of big innings for the Phils, who batted around and scored 4 runs in both the 2nd and 3rd innings. Even more remarkable was the fact that, after scoring all of their runs on long balls in Game One, the Phillies scored 8 runs in Game Two without hitting a single home run.

Shane Victorino was the other hero of the night as he drove in 4 runs on a single and a triple and made a spectacular catch in the 7th inning to help prevent the Dodgers from getting back into the game. Victorino has been the Phillies best hitter in the playoffs so far, hitting .304 and driving in 9 runs. His performance has made up for the way Howard and Jimmy Rollins have been swinging the bat. Both have struggled to get going so far.

The Phillies are now riding high after taking the first two games against the Dodgers and they now travel to L.A. for the next three games of the series. For the season, both teams have won every game they have played at home so it will be up to the Phils to try to break that trend. They will be fine if they can win at least one of the games in L.A. and come back home with a 3-2 series lead. Of course, it would be more ideal if they can take care of the Dodgers as quickly as possible and wait for the winner of the ALCS, which gets under way tonight.

The Phils should revel in their victory that was brought to them by an unlikely source, but they need to start figuring out how to get Howard going at the plate. If Howard can start hitting like he did for the final month of the season, the Phillies won't need any other unlikely heroes to step forward. You have to believe it's only a matter of time before Howard crushes a few and the Phillies ride him into the World Series.