Saturday, May 30, 2009

Penguins vs. Red Wings: Stanley Cup Finals Prediction

Here we go again! The Stanley Cup Finals are set to kick off today, and things look pretty familiar. For the first time since 1984, we have two teams squaring off in a re-match with the Stanley Cup on the line. The storyline is much the same as last year, with the young Penguins facing off against the battle-tested Detroit Red Wings. Of course, a few things are different, like the team that Marian Hossa plays for and the health of a few key players for the Red Wings.

After going 2 for 2 in my Conference Finals picks, here is my pick for the Stanley Cup Finals. I was tempted to simply re-post my pick from last year when these two teams played, but although the prediction is the same, the reasons for the pick are slightly different.

Stanley Cup Finals
Pittsburgh vs. Detroit

Detroit in 6
With how evenly matched these two teams are, this is a tough prediction to make. Both teams feature quality top-end scoring talent, deep forward lines, solid defense and a goalie who is just good enough when he needs to be. Neither team really has momentum on their side, either, since both simply rolled over their opponents in the Conference Finals. The Penguins are the healthier team, but Detroit has the better talent all-around.

So, when two teams are so closely matched on paper, you start to look at the intangibles. Which team has tons of playoff experience? Which team has guys who have been through the war and know what it takes to win? Which team has done it before? The Red Wings are the answer to all of those questions, and therefore are my pick to win it all.

Of course, the Penguins are capable of proving me wrong. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been fantastically good, putting up possibly the best numbers for any teammates in NHL Playoff history. These guys can carry the Pens without any help from their teammates, so it will take quite an effort from the Red Wings defense to slow them down. The health of Nicklas Lidstrom, who appears set to go, will be a big determining factor as to how well Detroit can contain the Big Two.

Detroit will also be without Pavel Datsyuk and Kris Draper for at least the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals, so their depth will be tested. Luckily, they have a slew of quality forwards who can step into the gaps and the team won't miss a beat. The Red Wings are a fine-tuned machine, and if one of the gears goes out, they simply replace it with one of the many parts they have lying around. The Wings also have a slightly better defense than Pittsburgh, plus a goaltender who has a few Stanley Cups under his belt already.

The Penguins are getting closer, but they still don't have what it takes to take down the Red Wings juggernaut. The Wings have too much talent, depth and experience to be knocked off. The only thing that could possibly hold them back is if a few more players are sidelined due to injury, but even then, a second straight Stanley Cup seems inevitable. With the mess that has gone on in Detroit over the last year, it will be nice to see Hockeytown celebrate another win.

Friday, May 29, 2009

No surprise here: Sixers hire Eddie Jordan to coach

We all knew Sixers GM Ed Stefanski would hire someone that he was comfortable with to coach the Philadelphia Sixers, so it came as no surprise when the Sixers announced today that they have hired Eddie Jordan to be the Head Coach. Jordan, who worked with Stefanski in New Jersey, signed a three year contract with the Sixers. Jordan previously coached the Washington Wizards for 4 years and built up a career record of 230-288.

Jordan's career record is pretty bad, so hopefully Stefanski knows something about Jordan that we don't. As long as Jordan is willing to let the team get out and run, he should be a good fit for the Sixers. His greatest challenge will likely be trying to figure out how to integrate Elton Brand into the team.

The Sixers won't sell a lot of tickets with the hiring of Jordan, but that doesn't mean it was a bad move. Hopefully this hiring is not a case of nepotism and is instead a move for an underrated coach. Only time will tell, but hopefully he can be more successful than the other coaches that have come in and out of town since Larry Brown was here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

With Myers possibly out for the season, it's time for the Phillies to acquire another pitcher

Unless you haven't been paying attention today, you have heard the bad news: Brett Myers is likely going to have hip surgery and could miss the rest of the season. It appears that Myers will need the surgery at some point and now is determining whether he needs to have it now or if he can pitch through it. The way things are being discussed right now, the Phillies should assume Myers won't be coming back and they should start making adjustments to their rotation.

Losing Myers will hurt the Phils since he has been one of their more consistent innings eaters this season. He hasn't put up sparkling numbers, but he was someone that nearly always kept the team in the game. His loss means the Phillies have a decision to make. Should they look within for rotation help or try to acquire some help from outside the organization?

If the Phillies stand pat, they have two logical in-house candidates: Chan Ho Park and Kyle Kendrick. Both have tried their hand at starting for the Phillies and both have failed. Both should only be looked at as short-term replacements and not any kind of answer for the remainder of the season. Carlos Carrasco is one other dark horse candidate, but he still seems a year or two away from being ready.

That leaves the Phillies needing to make a trade for a pitcher that can resemble a number two starter. Jayson Stark of ESPN made a long list of possible candidates for the Phillies, including Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Jake Peavy. Apparently the Phils have already been scouring the league for starting pitching and this injury to Myers should only intensify that search. With trading chips like Carrasco, Jason Donald and Lou Marson, the Phillies have plenty of pieces that other teams want, it's just a question of whether they can pry away a big-time starter or if they will have to settle for a secondary option, like Erik Bedard or Brad Penny. It will be interesting to see what Ruben Amaro can pull off in his first big trade.

With Brett Myers likely out for the year, the Phillies have to make a move to remain a contending team. A rotation of Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, J.A. Happ and Chan Ho Park or Kyle Kendrick just simply won't get it done. While they are at a disadvantage because other teams around the league know they have to make a trade and will try to raise their prices, the Phils have to get something done. They only have so many more years with this amazing offensive nucleus hitting on all cylinders, it would be a shame if they wasted one because of bad starting pitching.

As for Myers, we could have seen his last game as a Phillie. He will be a free agent at the end of the year and likely wants a pretty hefty contract. The Phillies will likely make him some kind of offer, it will be interesting to see if he is willing to stay at a hometown discount. Of course, if the Phillies can make a move for another big-time starter, they may not want Myers back at all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fun with Phillies Projections, Pitchers Edition

Yesterday, I looked at some of the projections for the Phillies hitters and whether there was any shot they could continue at their current pace (Ibanez should easily hit 64, right?). Today, it's the pitchers turn. Let's take a look at some of the actual projected statistics for a selection of Phillies pitchers and see if there is any chance they can meet these numbers:

Brad Lidge
Current: 4 Blown Saves
Projected: 14 Blown Saves
14 Blown Saves would dwarf Lidge's previous career high of 8 BS in a season. Something is definitely wrong with Lidge, especially considering he didn't blow a single save last season and now he has completely fallen off the rails. I don't see any way he gets 14 blown saves this season because he will either turn it around or he will lose his job as a closer.

Brett Myers
Current: 15 HR allowed
Projected: 53 HR allowed
Myers' previous career high is 31 HR allowed. I have no idea what the all-time record is for homers allowed in a single season, but I have to think that 53 would be close to it. Myers could pitch well and still break this record, after all, who cares if he gives up a homer with no one on base?

Cole Hamels
Current: 2-2 record
Projected: 7-7 record
Obviously, King Cole will finish with at least 10 wins, but he will still rack up his fair share of no-decisions, especially if the bullpen continues to blow saves.

Ryan Madson
Current: 2-1 record, 1 save, 1.13 WHIP
Projected: 7-4 record, 4 saves, 1.13 WHIP
Perhaps he's the answer at closer while Brad Lidge is struggling? Madson has certainly been dominant.

Jame Moyer
Current: 3-5 record, 13 HR allowed, 7.42 ERA
Projected: 11-18 record, 46 HR allowed, 7.42 ERA
Moyer has had his worst season since 2004 with Seattle, when he put up numbers pretty similar to those projected numbers. That bodes well for a comeback for Moyer, since he has won 10 games every season since then, but it could also be a signal that he is in for a long year.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fun with Phillies Projections, Hitters Edition

Now that we are more than a quarter of the way through the baseball season, the season is really starting to take shape. The quarter pole is the time to start looking at numbers to find the trends and the flukes. Let's take a look at some of the actual projected statistics for a selection of Phillies hitters and see if there is any chance they can meet these numbers:

Raul Ibanez
Current: 17 HR, 43 RBI
Projected: 64 HR, 162 RBI
Considering his career high in homers is 33, there is little chance that Ibanez will continue to be this hot, although he still seems a likely candidate to get a least 40 homers and 120 RBI. Ibanez has to be loving the transition from a pitchers park in Seattle to Citizens Bank.

Chase Utley
Current: 11 HR, 31 RBI
Projected: 43 HR, 121 RBI
While those numbers pale in comparison with Ibanez, Utley is crushing the ball this season. Those totals would dwarf his previous career high's by 10 homers and 16 RBI. Of course, with Utley, it's all about staying healthy. If he can remain in the lineup every day and close to 90%, he should at least get to 40 homers.

Jimmy Rollins
Current: 6 steals
Projected: 23 steals
A lot has been said about J-Roll's slump this season, and he can't steal bases if he doesn't get on them. Rollins hasn't stolen under 30 bases since 2003, and he has already started turning things around (4 steals in the last 10 games), so expect him to get close to 40 again.

Jayson Werth
Current: 8 HR, 8 steals
Projected: 31 HR, 31 steals
Werth was a 20/20 guy last year, can he make the leap to a 30/30 guy? I say doubtful, especially when you factor in that half of his steals came in one game. Werth has a shot at 25/25, which is still a darn good season.

Ryan Howard
Current: 51 strikeouts, 2 steals, 0 errors
Projected: 192 strikeouts, 8 steals, 0 errors
Howard had 4 career steals entering this season, he's absolutely tearing up the base paths this year. Those strikeouts are in line with his career averages, so expect the big man to continue K'ing at least once a game. The fielding seems like a legit turn-around, he had 19 errors last season and has made a concerted effort to become a much better fielder.

John Mayberry
Current: 1 HR, 3 RBI
Projected: 61 HR, 183 RBI
Small sample size be damned, those numbers seem about right!

Check back later for a look at projections for the Phillies pitchers.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Phillies talking with Padres about Jake Peavy

After refusing a deal to the Chicago White Sox yesterday, Jake Peavy rumors are now flying around the league. Peavy was essentially dealt to the White Sox but vetoed the deal because he doesn't want to pitch in the American League. Now that we know that he wants to stay in the National League, nearly every NL team in contention is rumored to be trying to deal for the Padres ace.

Including the Phillies. According to Mike Francesa of WFAN in New York, the Phillies are in discussions with the Padres about Peavy. Francesa doesn't site any sources or talk about any possible players in the deal, so take this rumor with a grain of salt. Thanks to Beerleaguer for the heads up.

The Phillies should be in the mix for Peavy because not only are they in need starting pitching, they also have some prospects they should be willing to deal, like Jason Donald. Peavy seems like he is going to be picky about where he ends up, and so far all we have heard is that he likes living on the West Coast but he wouldn't mind going to the Midwest. Would he accept a trade to the East Coast to play for the World Champs? Who knows.

Adding Peavy to the Phillies sounds too good to be true, and it probably is. I would expect Peavy to either stay in San Diego or finally end up with the Cubs. The Phillies are smart to be involved, but the chances look pretty slim that we will see Peavy in a Phils uniform.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ibanez, Phillies power past Reds; bring on the Yankees!

(AP Photo/Al Behrman)
Who needs good starting pitching when you have an offense like this? The Phillies got a poor outing from Joe Blanton, who gave up 5 runs in 5 innings, but they managed to destroy the Reds with their bats and pick up a 12-5 win. The Phils offense was paced by four homers, one each from Greg Dobbs, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and the red-hot Raul Ibanez. They still aren't getting the performances they need from their starting pitchers, but that offense, which is 2nd in the NL in runs scored, could very well carry them right back into the playoffs.

Ibanez has been the story of the season so far as he now is hitting .349 with 15 homers, 40 RBI. Those numbers put him in Triple Crown contention now that he is first in RBI, tied for first in homers and 7th in the NL in batting average. It's even more eye-popping when you look at his projected numbers for the season. If Ibanez keeps hitting at his current pace, he will finish the season with 62 homers and 166 RBI. We know that won't happen, but Raul is still likely to finish with around 40 homers and 110+ RBI. Is there anyone out there that still misses Pat Burrell? (1 HR, 17 RBI)

Up next for the Phillies is a trip to New York to play the Yankees. Can you believe it's already time for Interleague play? Much has been made about how easy the Phillies schedule has been so it will be interesting to see how they do against the powerful Yanks. The pitching matchups favor the Yankees, as they will be sending out their two lefties Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia to counter the Phils lefty heavy lineup. J.A. Happ will make his first start of the season for the Phils, he will have a tough time trying to slow down the potent Yankee lineup. The marquee matchup of the series is Sunday when Cole Hamels faces off with Sabathia. That is a must-watch game and it should be a hell of a pitchers duel.

The Phillies are still relying on their bats to bail them out because their pitching isn't coming through. The Yankees are pretty much in the same boat, so expect to see some high-scoring games in New York this weekend.

Monday, May 18, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Talk about a letdown. Last Sunday was shaping up to be an epic day of basketball, with two huge Game 7's that figured to to have fans everywhere glued to their couches. Two blowouts later and we are all left wondering where that Lakers team had been all series and how the Magic ever had any trouble with the Sixers in the first round. The Conference Finals could feature a few more blowouts, especially in the Eastern Conference, but it looks like we might have a classic series on our hands in the West.

After going a paltry 2 for 4 in my Round Two predictions, here are my predictions for the Conference Finals:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Nuggets (2)

Lakers in 7

This should be a good one. The Nuggets are red hot but the Lakers are clearly the more talented team when they are playing at the top of their game. Part of me really wants to go with the Nuggets, especially when you look at how Kenyon Martin and the rest of the Nugget frontcourt figures to beat down the Lakers softies inside, but Denver simply doesn't match-up well with the Lakers. Start with the question of who will guard Kobe Bryant. With Shane Battier hounding him all series, Kobe didn't play great against the Rockets, but he still was able to drop over 30 points three times on the guy who supposedly guards him better than anyone else. Imagine what Kobe will do against Dahntay Jones, who is a solid defender but not in the same class as Battier.

Of course, Kobe won't be able to do it all alone, he needs his supporting cast to step up. The biggest weakness the Lakers have is at point guard, where Derek Fisher can't guard faster players and contributes very little offensively. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they won't be able to exploit Fisher in the same way that Aaron Brooks of the Rockets did. Chauncey Billups is a great player for sure, but he is no speed demon. If the Lakers play anything like they did against the Rockets in Game 7, this series could be over quickly. Look for the Lakers to remain inconsistent, giving the Nuggets an opening, but L.A. has the edge in experience that will help them to pull out their 3rd straight Game 7.

Eastern Conference
Cavs (1) vs. Magic (3)
Cavs in 5
The Magic showed just how talented they were in dominating the Celtics in Game 7, but look for everything to come crashing down for Orlando against the Cavaliers. The Magic rely too much on the outside shot, something that gives opposing teams as bad as the lowly Sixers a chance to come back from any possible deficit. Of course, I don't expect the Cavs to have a lot of deficits against the Magic, not with LeBron James willing them to victory every night. I am tempted to go with the Cavs in their third straight sweep (Fo' Fo' Fo'), but the Magic will probably get hot one game and squeak out a win. The best thing the Magic have going for them is the fact that Dwight Howard is big enough and strong enough to force LeBron to think twice about taking it to the hole every time on the Magic. Unfortunately for Orlando, LeBron can beat you in so many ways that they simply don't stand a chance.

So those are my predictions. Although it's not as inevitable as before, we still seem headed for a Kobe/LeBron showdown in the NBA Finals. What a series that will be, it will be the perfect way to cap off a thrilling NBA Playoffs.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

After three series that went the full 7 games, one has to wonder how the NHL Playoffs could possibly get any better. Nearly every game has been filled with drama, and now that the number one seed from each conference has been knocked out, things seem wide open as parity makes for great hockey. Of course, all of this excitement seems likely headed towards a re-match from last years Stanley Cup Final, which was anything but exhilarating.

After going an abysmal 1 for 4 in the second round, here are my picks for the NHL Conference Finals. If I don't start getting a few more of these predictions correct, I should probably just stop making puck picks altogether!

Western Conference Finals
Detroit (2) vs. Chicago
Detroit in Six
This series is the classic match-up between the cagey veterans who have been there before against the young kids who should be nervous but don't know any better. I have wrongly picked against the Chicago Blackhawks in every round, not really believing that they were ready to make this kind of leap into the NHL elite. What I didn't count on was their balanced attack up front and their surprisingly talented defensemen in the back. It all starts with youngsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but they also have veteran Martin Havlat and former Flyer Patrick Sharp to add to the offensive mix. Defensively, the Hawks big pick-up in the offseason was Brian Campbell, and he has been his usual puck-moving threat, but they get their best play along the blueline from consistent ice-time eaters Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

Of course, we all know what the Red Wings bring to the table, and that's a little bit of everything. Even though several of their forwards, like Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk, haven't really gotten it going offensively yet, the team has so little drop-off from line to line that there is always someone else who steps up and gets the job done. After surviving a scare against a tough Ducks team, the Hawks might seem like less of a threat to the Wings, but don't look for Detroit to take them lightly. All they need is a few timely saves from Chris Osgood and the Red Wings should coast into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Carolina (6)

Pittsburgh in Six

Let me get this out of the way right now: I'm rooting for Carolina to win this series. As a Flyers fan, I simply can't stand the Penguins. Not only are they the cross-state rival of the Flyers, but the Penguins have now eliminated the Flyers two years in a row. Making it even more painful is the fact that the Penguins are a very good team that looks like they will be a contender for years to come. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have risen their level of play in the playoffs, one of the key reasons the Pens were able to oust the Capitals in that epic second round series. Add in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who always seems to make the big stop, and an underrated defense, and the Pens seem poised to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Not that the Hurricanes will make it easy for the Penguins. Like the Hawks, I picked against Carolina in each round so far, not really believing that they were capable of making a run. In fact, when you look up and down the Hurricane roster, it's hard to understand how they got this far. Yeah, Cam Ward is an excellent goaltender, but they don't have anyone who strikes fear into their opponents. Instead, the Hurricanes are one of those teams whose total is better than the sum of their parts. Carolina has a disciplined defensive approach that will cause Crosby and Malkin fits, and they get timely goals when they break their opponents defense down. That said, I still don't think they can completely shut down the Penguins star forwards which will inevitably expose their offense when they can't muster up enough goals. Unfortunately, the Penguins are on their way to a re-match for the Cup.

So those are my predictions. Let's hope I can do better than my awful showing for the Second Round picks.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Phillies (finally) invade the White House!

AP Photo
After postponing their last visit because of the death of Harry Kalas, the Phillies finally had their big meeting with President Barack Obama today. They gave him a custom jersey, with his presidential number 44 on it and all. Quote of the day had to be Obama, after Jimmy Rollins gave him the jersey, asking J-Roll "can I have your ring, too?"

Click here to watch the meeting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is it over for Jamie Moyer?

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
The end might finally be coming for Jamie Moyer. The 46 year old pitcher for the Phillies enjoyed a remarkable season last year when he won 16 games and helped the Phils win the World Series. After that effort, many talked about how Moyer had several good years left and how he could possibly pitch into his 50's.

Flash forward to this season and things have gone downhill fast. Moyer has made 7 starts this year and has had only one where he has given up fewer than 4 earned runs. Including Wednesday night's effort against the Dodgers, here are the number of earned runs Moyer has given up in each start: 4, 4, 4, 1, 5, 7, 7. The one good outing he had was against the Florida Marlins, the team Moyer has owned the last few seasons.

With his ERA sitting at 8.15, we now have to wonder if it's time for Moyer to ride off into the sunset, or, at the very least, take a few starts off to clear his head. With the recent emergence of Chan Ho Park, Moyer has certainly become the weakest link in the Phillies rotation, and with capable pitchers like J.A. Happ and Kyle Kendrick waiting in the wings, perhaps Moyer should come up with some phantom injury so he can take some time to straighten himself out.

While I hold out hope that this isn't the end for Old Man Moyer, it feels like we are getting closer and closer to that point with each terrible outing. Perhaps he is just in a funk or in a post-World Series hangover, but whatever the problem is, his career depends on him figuring it out. Hopefully, if he realizes he has nothing left in the tank, he will do the graceful thing and bow out of the game rather than try to fight it. Jamie Moyer has had such a great career, it would be a shame if it had to end with a series of drubbings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Werth helps Phillies steal one from Dodgers

(AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
Maybe Jayson Werth should be the new lead-off man for the Phillies?

In a game that saw Charlie Manuel drop Jimmy Rollins from the lead-off spot to 5th in the batting order, Jayson Werth made his case for taking over the top spot in the order when he stole four bases against the Dodgers in a 5-3 Phillies victory.

Werth stole his first base in the 2nd inning, then proceeded to steal second, third and home all in the 7th inning after singling his way on base. Werth's steal of home was the first for the Phillies since Carlos Ruiz did it in 2007, although Ruiz's steal was on the back end of a double steal. Werth also tied the Phillie record for steals in a game and was the first player to steal second, third and home all in the same inning since 1996. The Phillies also got two more steals on the night, one from Jimmy Rollins and the other from Ryan Howard of all people. Every steal was against Dodgers catcher Russell Martin; apparently the Phillies did their homework on how to steal on that guy.

With all of the amazing steals, Werth managed to overshadow another strong performance by Chan Ho Park, who solidified his spot in the rotation by going 6 innings and giving up only 2 runs. Jamie Moyer now appears to be the low man in the Phillies rotation.

As for Rollins, I have been hoping the Phillies would drop him from the top spot for a while now. Despite his claim that he only wants to be a lead-off hitter, J-Roll was never the type of player you want atop the order. A drop in the lineup, even if it's only temporary, should get Rollins motivated to get his act together and stop swinging at the first pitch all the time.

The win helps the Phillies stay one game behind the first place Mets. If Jayson Werth can keep up this prowess on the base paths, it should only be a matter of time before the Phils get back atop the NL East.

Monday, May 11, 2009

DiLeo is out as Sixers coach, who's in?

Tony DiLeo is out as coach of the Sixers but don't expect him to be upset about it.

DiLeo never really wanted to be the coach of the Sixers, yet GM Ed Stefanski convinced DiLeo to take the reigns after Mo Cheeks was fired back in December. DiLeo did an admirable job with the team, guiding the team to a strong finish as he stressed pushing the ball as often as possible. When the Sixers were ousted after the first round, however, it became pretty clear that DiLeo wasn't going to be on the Sixers bench for much longer.

That speculation became fact today as DiLeo told Stefanski that he wanted to take his name out of consideration for the coaching position for the coming season. Instead, DiLeo will return to his previous position as senior vice president and assistant general manager for the Sixers. All things considered, DiLeo did a solid job getting the team to the playoffs but it was clear that he never really wanted to be a coach. His place is in the front office, so that's why he is headed back there.

The search for a new coach for the Sixers officially begins now. The two names we have heard that make the most sense for the Sixers are Doug Collins and Eddie Jordan. Collins is a former Sixer who works for TNT as an annoucer and has said he is interested in leading the team. His last stint as coach of the Wizards was less than impressive, but he is well-respected in the league and would demand a lot from this young Sixers squad. Jordan is also a former Wizards coach and he has ties with Stefanski, but he hasn't had a great track record either.

There are some other names that have been thrown about that are purely speculation, from former Mavs coach Avery Johnson to Villanova coach Jay Wright. Both would be interesting choices, but don't hold your breath that Wright would want to leave 'Nova.

Whoever eventually comes in to coach the Sixers will have a ton of pressure on them to turn this franchise around. There is also even more pressure on Ed Stefanski since this will be the first coach he hires for the team and his job is likely on the line if he makes the wrong choice.

Friday, May 8, 2009

All is right again, King Cole is back!

A day after watching Jamie Moyer get pounded by the Mets, the Phillies were desperately hoping for a good pitching performance. Enter Cole Hamels, who has had a rocky season to say the least as he has dealt with injuries and poor outings. Hamels proved he was back in a big way tonight, however, as he went 6 innings, struck out 7 and gave up 2 runs, leading the Phillies to a 10-6 win over the Braves.

While it would have been an accomplishment had Hamels simply managed to escape the game without getting injured, he did so much more to instill confidence that the Phillies rotation woes might be cured by having their ace back and pitching every 5th day. The Phils still remain in first place after beating the Braves and if they could just get consistent outings from their starting pitchers, they could run away with the division.

A pitcher that hasn't been himself lately is Brad Lidge. Lidge came into the game in the 9th inning with the Phillies up 10-3, presumably to get some work in as he continues to recover from injury. He nearly blew the game, however, after allowing a walk, double and a subsequent 3-run homer before mowing down three Braves in a row to end the game. Lidge's ERA now sits at 8.49 for the season, a far cry from the 1.05 he put up last season.

A little pitching will go a long way for the Phillies. Let's hope Cole Hamels has now sent a message to the rest of the staff to step up their performance.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Error, not Park, causes Phillies to lose to Santana, Mets

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
The result is what we expected: the Mets, who sent Johan Santana to the mound, beat the Phillies, who were starting Chan Ho Park. What wasn't expected was just how well Park would pitch and just how close the Phillies would be to winning this game.

Santana pitched 7 strong innings, struck out 10 batters and gave up only 2 hits as he cruised to a 1-0 victory for the Mets. Surprisingly, Park kept up with Santana, going 6 innings and allowing no runs on two hits. Park probably even should have stayed in the game another inning, considering how well he was pitching and the fact that he had only thrown 91 pitches. Phillies fans (me included, check my tweets earlier in the day) should all apologize to Park for not giving him a chance in this one, he proved that he deserves a few more chances to hold on to the 5th spot in the rotation.

What ended up failing the Phillies in this game was, for once, not the pitching, but instead the defense. The usually excellent fielding of Pedro Feliz failed him for one play, when he made an errant throw to first base, and it was enough for the Mets to squeak out the lone run of the game in the 7th inning.

Chalk this loss up to an anomaly: Pedro Feliz rarely makes errors. The Phillies got a great game from Park, but Johan Santana proved that he is still the best pitcher in baseball. Luckily for the Phils, the Marlins also lost, which keeps Philly in first place.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Goaltender Ray Emery is on the Flyers radar, let's hope they stay away

After a quick exit out of the playoffs, the Flyers have some serious work to do to in the offseason to fix all of the holes on their roster. The Flyers find themselves with too many forwards signed to big, long term contracts and not enough quality defensemen on the roster. They somehow need to turn a forward or two into solid defensive players. Of course, their biggest need in the offseason is a starting goaltender, since currently they don't even have a goalie on the roster: both Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki are unrestricted free agents.

While common sense would point to the Flyers re-signing Biron and allowing recently signed Johan Backlund be the back-up when Niittymaki signs elsewhere, apparently the Flyers are looking at other options. Rumors have surfaced that the Flyers have had discussions with hothead goaltender Ray Emery, formerly of the Ottawa Senators, with the idea of bringing him in as the starting goaltender. Emery did lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007, but has since been basically banished to the KHL, a Russian League, after Ottawa waived him for poor play and bad off-ice behavior in 2008. Emery did have a stellar season in the KHL, putting up a 22-8 record and a sparkling 2.12 goals against average, and by all reports his behavior has improved. Still, how can the Flyers be seriously considering handing this guy the keys to the net?

If Emery has straightened out his act, he can be a good goaltender in the NHL. That's a mighty big if, though, and it's a huge risk for a team that has so many good, young players and appears to be on the doorstep of being an elite team. Is Martin Biron really that bad? At least with Marty, you know he's a team guy, even if his play has been uneven. I'd rather have a guy like Biron in net even if his level of play is a little lower than a guy like Emery, who has the potential to completely disrupt the team.

Ray Emery should only be a desperation option for the Flyers. If both Antero Niittymaki and Martin Biron sign elsewhere, or if they are asking for too much money, then the Flyers should take a risk with someone like Emery. Otherwise, there is no sense in ruining the team chemistry and bringing in Emery just for the small chance that he has straightened himself out. Let another team ruin their season by wasting their time and money on Ray Emery. Move along, Flyers.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Round Two

I am usually a bigger fan of the NHL Playoffs than the NBA Playoffs, but few can argue that the NBA has had the better second season so far. The Bulls/Celtics series was epic, the kind of series that draws in even casual fans who have little rooting interest in either team. With the second round of the playoffs set to begin, now we will see if what the NBA has in store for an encore. We still appear headed for a Cavs/Lakers final, hopefully there will be some drama along the way.

After going 5 for 8 in my Round One predictions, here are my predictions for the second round of the NBA Playoffs:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Rockets (5)

Lakers in 5

Congratulations to the Rockets for finally getting out of the First Round. Don't celebrate too much, however, because you are about to get whipped by the Lakers. Some are arguing that Ron Artest will be able to get in Kobe Bryant's head and make him have a bad game or two, but if you think Kobe is going to just back down when Artest jaws at him you are crazy. The great players like Kobe use the jabs and insults as fuel to dominate entire games. As for the rest of the players on the floor, the Lakers will have issues trying to guard Yao Ming, especially with Andrew Bynum not fully healthy. That said, the Lakers are the better all-around team and they should make quick work of the Rockets.

Nuggets (2) vs. Mavs (6)
Mavs in 7
While I did pick the Nuggets to beat the Hornets in the first round, I didn't expect the series to be that lopsided. Somehow, Denver has gone from one of the most unstable teams in the league to one of the most consistent. Most of the credit for that has to go to Chauncey Billups, who should be getting MVP consideration for leading the turnaround. The Mavericks also surprised me in the first round, the way they disposed of the Spurs was impressive. I am going back and forth as to who will win this series, but it's safe to say it will probably go seven games. I like the Mavericks in the end because they have more guys that have done it before and I don't think Denver has anyone that can stop Dirk.

Eastern Conference
Cavs (1) vs. Hawks (4)
Cavs in 5
The Hawks just finished off the Heat with a blowout win, but for their troubles they now have to face the Cavaliers, a team that steamrolled past the Pistons in the first round. The Hawks have no shot against LeBron James, although I will give them a game to avoid the sweep. If the Heat had beaten the Hawks, Dwyane Wade would have stolen two games.

Celtics (2) vs. Magic (3)
Celtics in 6

The only guarantee about this series is that it won't nearly be as good as the Celtics/Bulls matchup. After that epic series, we should get an idea of whether that series was good because both teams were so evenly matched in a good way or in a bad way when the Celtcis play the Magic. Orlando isn't that strong of a team, so if the Celtics have trouble here, then we know the Bulls really aren't that good. If the Celtics breeze through in 5 or 6 games, then we know we saw an epic series and that Chicago was really a top team in the East. The only thing that should stop the Celtics here is if they are out of gas after having to play all those overtime games. For the Magic, Dwight Howard should be rested and ready to wreak havoc.

So those are my predictions. Let's see if we get another round of great games!