Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yankees even up series behind Burnett's gem

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
When you are looking for a pitcher to match the masterful performance that Cliff Lee had for the Phillies in Game 1, there would be quite a few names that come up before A.J. Burnett. While Burnett's outing wasn't quite up to par with Lee's, the Yankee pitcher did everything he could to silence the Phillie bats in a 3-1 Game 2 win for New York.

Burnett was on point all night, throwing first pitch strikes to nearly every batter he faced en route to striking out 9 and giving up only 4 hits and 1 run in 7 innings. While he isn't known for his command, Burnett was around the plate all game long and mixed his pitches up just enough to keep Phillie hitters off balance. It was a great performance for a pitcher who is known to implode once things get a little rough; unfortunately for the Phillies, he never had to sweat much on the mound.

Following Burnett's 7 innings, the Yankees turned to Mariano Rivera, the historically great playoff closer. While the Phillies did manage to get guys on base against Rivera in both the 8th and 9th innings, the Yankee closer shut the door by getting the key double play groundout (although the ump blew it and Chase Utley was safe on the play) and the key strikeout when he needed them.

For the Phillies, Pedro Martinez pitched a solid game in his first outing at the new Yankee Stadium. The fans were on him for most of the night but Pedro was about as good as expected, giving up 3 runs in 6 innings. While it took him a lot of pitches, Pedro mixed up his speeds and got the Yankees to flail at some bad pitches on his way to an 8 strikeout game. In all, it was a tough loss for Pedro as he once again didn't get much run support.

No reason to panic, Phillies fans. Yes, the Phillies lost a tough, close game. If you look at the bigger picture, though, the Phillies did just about all you can ask of them: they went into New York and took one out of two against the Yankees. By splitting the road games, the Phils took home field advantage away from the Yankees and now have three games in Philly vs. the two left in New York. While it would have been even better had the Phillies won both games, even the most jaded fan has to be pleased that the Phillies can win the series by taking care of business at home.

Keep your heads up, Phillies fans. A.J. Burnett isn't going to have another game like that. There is still plenty of series left to be played and the Phillies bats still have plenty more hits in them.

NFL Week 8 Predictions

Can you believe we are almost to the halfway point of the NFL season? Things are already starting to shape up for an intriguing stretch run as several teams will be fighting for the one or two playoff spots that will be up-for-grabs. With so many elite teams and so many terrible teams, it's going to be a dogfight just to be a 5 or 6 seed.

Here are my picks for Week 8 of the NFL season. Remember, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 10-3, .769
Overall Record: 74-29, .719

Byes: Bengals, Bucs, Chiefs, Patriots, Redskins, Steelers

Sunday Day Games:

Texans (4-3)
@ Bills (3-4) The Bills look like they are sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback even if/when Trent Edwards is healthy. Yeah, I'm aware Fitzpatrick has "led" the Bills to two straight wins. Good luck with that, Buffalo. My pick: Texans

Browns (1-6) @ Bears (3-3)
I don't think even Jay Cutler can screw this one up. The Bears should get a touchdown on defense and that could be enough to win this game. My pick: Bears

Seahawks (2-4) @ Cowboys (4-2)
With how "bad" the Cowboys were supposedly playing earlier in the season, their 4-2 record puts them even with the Eagles and ready to compete for a playoff spot. A lot of that has to do with Miles Austin's emergence from nowhere; he really has been remarkable and has fantasy owners everywhere giddy. Seattle is slowly slipping back into the "have-nots" pile in the NFL. My pick: Cowboys

Rams (0-7) @ Lions (1-5)
Yeesh. I never thought a one win team could look so much better than a zero win team. Whether Calvin Johnson plays or not, and no matter who their quarterback is, I expect Detroit to win this game by 10. That doesn't say much about the Rams, who have to be wondering where that first win is going to come from. It's going to be a looooong second half of the season, Rams fans. My pick: Lions

Niners (3-3) @ Colts (6-0)
The Colts where the best team in football, then they had a bye week and suddenly the Saints leapfrogged them because they barely beat the Dolphins? How does that work? Look for Indy to re-establish their dominance over the league by crushing the Niners. Sorry, starting Alex Smith just isn't going to cut it. My pick: Colts

Dolphins (2-4) @ Jets (4-3)
Think the Jets have figured out how to stop the Dolphins offense by now? Revenge will certainly be on their minds as they try to shut down the Wildcat this week. If the Jets want to make the playoffs, they've got to beat Miami once. My pick: Jets

Broncos (6-0) @ Ravens (3-3)
It only seems like I pick against them every game but I have to believe that the Ravens will finally hand Denver their first loss this week. The Ravens are fresh off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare for Denver so you can bet their defense will be ready. Offensively, I don't see how the Broncos will slow down Ray Rice and the rushing attack. My pick: Ravens

Giants (5-2) @ Eagles (4-2)
I don't like making this pick but I just haven't seen enough from the Eagles to justify picking them to beat the Giants. The Eagles have looked very average the last two weeks, getting by the Redskins only because DeSean Jackson is a beast. I just don't have enough faith in the offense, especially without Brian Westbrook, to go with the Eagles. The only chance the Birds have in this one is if the defense keeps the game low-scoring and forces a few key turnovers. While we are getting to the time of year where Eli Manning starts sucking, I'm just not confident enough to pick the Eagles. By all means, prove me wrong Birds! My pick: Giants

Jaguars (3-3) @ Titans (0-6)
Call me crazy, but the Titans have to win sometime, right? While the decision to start Vince Young in this game may doom this pick, I just have a feeling that Tennessee gets their first W against a Jaguars team that is hit or miss from week to week. Both teams are coming off their bye's, and I have to believe Jeff Fisher has fixed a few of the things that have gone wrong with his team. If not this week, when are the Titans going to win? My pick: Titans

Raiders (2-5) @ Chargers (3-3)
The fact that the Chargers have only one more win than the Raiders is shocking. That speaks more to how they have been under performing and to how charitable the Eagles were to give the Raiders a win. My pick: Chargers

Vikings (6-1) @ Packers (4-2)
Is the honeymoon over for Brett Favre in Minnesota? While that interception at the end of the game against the Steelers wasn't his fault, you can bet Vikings fans started to grumble about the return of the erratic gunslinger. If the Vikings truly want to be an elite team, they need to feed the ball to Adrian Peterson much more and stop relying on Favre to do everything. You have the best running back in the game, use him already. As for the Packers, you can bet they have had this game circled on their calendar for months. Expect a lot of points and expect Aaron Rodgers to pull a "Favre" and lead his team to victory in the 4th quarter. My pick: Packers

Panthers (2-4) @ Cardinals (4-2)
The Panthers are really sticking with Jake Delhomme? Do they not watch their own film? The Cardinals aren't a great team but after they win this one they will be running away with the NFC West. My pick: Cardinals

Monday Night Game:

Falcons (4-2) @ Saints (6-0)
The Saints officially can beat you every way possible. Want to try to run the ball all game long and keep Drew Brees off the field, Atlanta? Fine, the defense will slow you down and Brees will find a way to put points on the board in a hurry. The Saints are going to trip up one of these weeks and the Falcons are a quality team but it's just not time yet for New Orleans to lose. My pick: Saints

Those are my picks for Week 8 of the NFL Season. Check back every Thursday during the season for the latest predictions. Feel free to discuss, argue or make your own picks in the comment section!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

3 more to go: Lee, Utley carry Phillies to victory

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Up until today, it seemed like the dominance of Cliff Lee was just something us Philly fans, and maybe some Cleveland fans, knew about. After his World Series Game 1 performance, the whole world understands what we have known all along: Cliff Lee is incredible.

For Lee, it was just another dominating performance, throwing a complete game against the Yankees to lead the Phillies to a 6-1 win. Lee made it look easy all night long, mixing in a few nonchalant defensive plays while striking out 10 batters and allowing only 6 hits. He made the potent Yankee offense look feeble all night, as most hitters that didn't strike out sprayed weak hits to the infielders. Cliff Lee was all business, making quick work of all the supposed sluggers in the Yankee lineup.

The offensive standout for the Phillies on the night was Chase Utley, who got the Phillies on the board in the first inning with a homer, then later added another homer. In fact, Utley was the entire offense for the Phillies until they added some insurance runs in the 8th and 9th innings. Even though they scored only two runs off of him, the Phillies kept the pressure on Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia all night long by staying patient and forcing Sabathia to throw strikes. By forcing Sabathia to make extra pitches, the Phillies were able to chase him from the game and get their insurance runs off of the weak Yankee bullpen.

The team that no one outside of Philadelphia picked to win the World Series just made a huge statement. They went on the road, gave up only one run against the best lineup in baseball and beat the opposing teams best pitcher. Even more importantly, the Phillies have already snatched away home field advantage from New York and have put all the pressure on the Yankees Game 2 starter, A.J. Burnett.

There is a reason they are the World Champs, folks. The Phillies always win the first game of a series and put themselves in the drivers seat. By doing that, they hold all the cards and force the other team to try to adjust to them. Now let's see if Pedro Martinez can pull a Cliff Lee in Game 2 and really give the Phillies a huge advantage.

Eagles place Gaither on IR, sign RB P.J. Hill

In a move we have expected for the last few days, the Eagles have placed LB Omar Gaither on the injured list, ending his season. Gaither underwent surgery last week after he suffered a Lisfranc surgery, so it was only a matter of time before the Birds stashed him away for the rest of the year. The injury to Gaither was the whole reason the Eagles brought in Will Witherspoon.

To replace Gaither on the roster, the Eagles have signed RB P.J. Hill, who as on the practice squad for the Saints. Hill is a rookie out of Wisconsin who put up some big numbers in college (3,942 yards, 42 TD's in 3 seasons) but went undrafted due to concerns about a DUI he received about a month before the 2009 Draft. Hill, who is a big back and could be a solid short-yardage runner, figures to be insurance should Brian Westbrook not be able to go against the Giants on Sunday after he suffered a concussion on Monday Night. In all likelihood, however, Hill will be inactive for a few weeks and then be released when the Eagles feel confident about Westbrook's health.

Flyers place Gagne on Injured Reserve, attempt to bring back Randy Jones

I guess we couldn't ask for more than one season of health for Simon Gagne. Gagne, who played 79 games last year after playing only 25 in 07/08, has two hernias on his right groin and will need surgery. Anticipating that he will be out for an extended period of time, the Flyers have placed Gagne on the Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), meaning he will miss at least the next 10 games. This move frees up 5.25 million dollars for the Flyers in cap money.

Since they have the extra cap space, the Flyers decided to bring back defenseman Randy Jones, placing him on re-entry waivers. If Jones is claimed by another team, the Flyers would be responsible for half of his 2.75 million dollar salary. If Jones goes unclaimed, the Flyers will have plenty of salary cap space to keep him around, and one would assume he would get plenty of ice time. The reason Jones got sent down in the first place was never about his ability, it was all about his salary. Jones is certainly capable of playing better than Danny Syvret and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, two players that beat him out for roster spots since they were cheaper.

The more worrisome news here is that Gagne is out for an extended period of time. While the Flyers do have plenty of depth at forward, losing a top line player is never going to help your team. The only good news is that Blair Betts is set to return to the ice in the coming days so the Flyers won't need to make any moves for another forward.

The Flyers have lacked consistency all year long and if the injuries start to pile up it's only going to get worse. That hot seat John Stevens is sitting on is only going to get hotter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Phillies vs. Yankees World Series breakdown

Picture via Getty and New York Times
They are the two best teams in baseball. It's Philadelphia vs. New York. Broad Street vs. Broadway (sort of). The bloodstripes vs. the pinstripes. Can you ask for a better World Series than this? Here is my complete position by position breakdown of the World Series:

Starting Pitching:
Phillies: Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez, Cole Hamels
Yankees: C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte

Both teams appear ready to go with a three team rotation, although the Phillies are holding their cards close to the vest, refusing to announce what they will do with their rotation after the first three games. The Phillies will go with Cliff Lee in Game One, Pedro in Game Two at Yankee Stadium since the veteran won't be fazed, and Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, in Game Three back in Philly. The Phillies also have plenty of depth; should they choose to go with four starters, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ are both capable of giving solid innings. As for the Yankees, they are set with their rotation, with Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte taking the ball every third game. The Yankees rotation depth is non-existent but it won't matter since they won't have to go four starters deep. As for which rotation is better, the Phillies clearly have better depth but that won't matter in this series. Both teams also appear to be very even across each pitching match-up, with Sabathia and Lee canceling each other out and Pettitte and Hamels basically a wash. Pedro Martinez is the wild card, he likely holds the key to whether the Phillies win this series or not. Edge: Even

Bullpen:
Phillies: Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton
Yankees: Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson

In every series, the Phillies bullpen is supposed to be their weak spot. On paper, the Phillie 'pen isn't supposed to be as good as it has been, but Charlie Manuel has pushed all the right buttons and gotten the most out of this group. With Brad Lidge seemingly back to his old self, Ryan Madson getting key outs every game and Scott Eyre and J.A. Happ getting the lefties out, the Phillie bullpen is solid. The Yankee bullpen is even better, though, as they can really lock down a game if they have the lead entering the 7th inning. With the best postseason closer in baseball history, the Yankees have to be given the edge here. The Phillies do have the better depth in their 'pen, but the Yanks top-end talent is just better. Edge: Yankees

Catcher:
Phillies Carlos Ruiz
Yankees: Jorge Posada

The casual baseball fan would think this is a no-brainer selection with the Yankees having a big edge. Well, if you've watched a Phillies game this postseason, you know better. Carlos Ruiz not only calls a great game behind the plate, he is also Mr. Choochtober, getting the big hit time and again. Ruiz should be a household name after this series. Edge: Phillies

Infield:
Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz
Yankees: Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez

I've called the Phillie infield the best in baseball but this Yankee infield gives them a run for their money. There is no weak spot in either infield, with power coming from two of the positions, speed coming from the middle and solid defense all around. The heart of the lineup for each teams potent offense comes from the infield, with all the table-setters and big RBI guys here. It's too close to call. Edge: Even

Outfield:
Phillies: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth
Yankees: Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher

Besides Melky Cabrera, the Yankees outfield has been very disappointing this postseason. Johnny Damon is a shell of his former self and Nick Swisher can't hit at all, meaning the Phillies have a huge edge with their outfielders. Jayson Werth has continued to amaze with his big homers and Shane Victorino seems like he is always on base. Raul Ibanez has been the lone dim spot although he is still hitting better than Swisher. Edge: Phillies

DH/Bench:
Phillies: Ben Francisco, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Miguel Cairo
Yankees: Hideki Matsui, Brett Gardner, Jose Molina, Jerry Hairston Jr.

Ben Francisco is likely to get a lot of playing time when the Yankees are using lefties in the AL park. The "throw-in" in the Cliff Lee deal is easily the Phillies best bench player, but after that there is a major drop-off. Same goes for the Yankees, who have Hideki Matsui at DH and nothing else. Hard to see either team getting much from these guys. Edge: Even

Manager:
Phillies: Charlie Manuel
Yankees: Joe Girardi

One manages with his gut, the other by the book. I'll give the advantage to the guy who is smart enough to understand every situation and trust his instincts over the guy who has to look up what to do. Joe Girardi has been under heavy fire for some of his questionable calls, going so far as to jeopardize the Yankees in nearly every game. Charlie Manuel has been the exact opposite, quickly becoming one of the best managers in the game. Edge: Phillies

My prediction:
It's close, but I give the Phillies a 3-1-3 edge over the Yankees, leading me to pick the Phillies in 7. I am expecting an epic series, one that should feature plenty of scoring with several lead changes in every game. I only expect Games 1, 4 and 7, when Lee and Sabathia square off, to have the total scores under double digits. As for why the Phillies will win, I simply think they have more depth at pitching that will eventually be important as the series wears on. The Yankees haven't faced an offense like the Phillies this postseason so I expect their pitchers to be tested early and often.

Repeating is extremely hard to do but the Phillies seem poised to be the first repeat champions in nearly a decade. This should be a long, hard series, but the Phillies have proven again and again that they can overcome all odds. Go Phillies, BEAT NEW YORK!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Big plays push Eagles past Redskins

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
If you were only casually watching the Monday Night Game between the Eagles and Redskins and weren't paying attention to the score, you may be left wondering which team was actually better. The Eagles played down to the Redskins most of the night, featuring a stagnant offense that could barely move the ball and a defense that gave up plenty of yards throughout the night. So, how did the Eagles win the game 27-17 and why was the game never in question? Big plays.

The Eagles had every big play in the game, including a pair of long touchdowns by DeSean Jackson and an interception return for a touchdown by the newest Eagle, Will Witherspoon. Take out those three plays, and the Eagles lose the game 10-6. Of course, you can't just take away those plays and good teams make the big plays that win football games.

The best unit on the night for the Eagles was their defense, which did give up their fair share of yards but also got pressure on Jason Campbell early and often, sacking him 6 times and caused a fumble and an interception. Defensive player of the game had to be Witherspoon, who forced a fumble on a sack and had 6 tackles to go along with his pick 6.

As for the offense, the Eagles were far from impressive. DeSean Jackson had nearly half of the rushing yards when he took an end around 67 yards for a touchdown and nearly a third of the receiving yards on his 57 yard touchdown catch. A concussion suffered by Brian Westbrook early in the game certainly hindered the offense but the Eagles need to figure out how to put drives together at some point this season. You can beat teams like the Redskins when their defense breaks down but how are you going to beat the Giants if you can't put together a solid drive?

The Eagles did this week what they couldn't do last week: beat a bad team. It was far from perfect but they have to be given credit that the game was never in doubt. The season begins next week for the Birds when they take on the Giants and we can finally see if this team is for real. Let's hope both the Eagles and Phillies can take a cue from each other and BEAT NEW YORK.

Eagles/Redskins Week 7 Inactives

Are you ready for some football? The Eagles and Redskins have announced their inactives for Monday Night's game:

Eagles: DE Victor Abiamiri, WR Kevin Curtis, LB Omar Gaither, G Max Jean-Gilles, QB Kevin Kolb, LB Joe Mays, G Mike McGlynn, CB Dimitri Patterson

Redskins: CB Kevin Barnes, RB Quinton Ganther, LB Robert Henson, WR Marko Mitchell, DT Anthony Montgomery, G Chad Rinehart, LT Chris Samuels, DE Renaldo Wynn

No big surprises for the Eagles as Abiamiri, Curtis and Gaither are all expected to miss time. Jean-Gilles is the one new name to show up this week, apparently the Birds feel that Todd Herremans' return will solidify the line. Kevin Kolb is the emergency QB, meaning Mike Vick will be used in some Wildcat trickery.

For the Redskins, the only news is that Clinton Portis and Albert Haynesworth are suiting up. Both have been battling injuries but are good to go tonight.

It's time to bounce back, Eagles. Last week was an embarrassment. Prove you are still an elite team on the national stage tonight. GO BIRDS!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bring on the Yankees! Philly vs. New York in the World Series

After what only seemed like an eternity, the Phillies have finally got an opponent for the World Series: the hated Yankees. It wasn't pretty, but the Yanks knocked off the Angels on Sunday night to win the ALCS in six games. The Angels put up a fight but the Yankees proved to be much too strong.

The Phillies and Yankees will be facing off in a World Series for the second time in history, with the two also playing in 1950, when the Yanks beat the Phillies in 4 straight. You can guarantee that history will not repeat itself in 2009.

Here is the schedule for the World Series. The Yankees are the home team because the AL won the All Star Game:

Game One: Wednesday, October 28th: Phillies @ Yankees
Game Two: Thursday, October 29th: Phillies @ Yankees
Game Three: Saturday, October 31st: Yankees @ Phillies
Game Four: Sunday, November 1st: Yankees @ Phillies
Game Five: Monday, November 2nd: Yankees a@ Phillies
Game Six: Wednesday, November 4th: Phillies @ Yankees
Game Seven: Thursday, November 5th: Phillies @ Yankees

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mike Richards: to suspend or not to suspend?

UPDATE: Not suspend. The NHL has chosen not to suspend Mike Richards for his hit on David Booth. Read the comments to this article for some backlash from an anti-Flyers fan.

The Flyers put together a solid win Saturday night against the Panthers, blowing them out by a score of 5-1. Danny Briere had a pair of goals that will hopefully get him going and Arron Asham also added a goal, his third in the last three games. Ray Emery also played well in goal for the Flyers, stopping 17 of 18 shots.

The story of the night, however, is whether Flyers Captain Mike Richards will get suspended for his hit on Panthers forward David Booth. Late in the second period, Richards leveled Booth in the face with his shoulder, knocking Booth out and forcing him to leave the ice on a stretcher. Richards was given a 5 minute interference penalty and a game misconduct for the hit which tossed him from the game. Here's the hit:

Since Richards was given a game misconduct, the NHL will review the hit and decide if it was worthy of a suspension. While the Panthers firmly believe that Richards' hit was dirty, Richards and Flyers GM Paul Holmgren both believe that the hit was clean, with Holmgren saying that Richards "isn't a dirty player" and Richards himself saying that he just wanted to "separate (Booth) from the puck".

So, is Richards' hit worthy of a suspension? The hit was a little late but it was within the flow of the game. Since Richards has no prior record of an incident like this, I think he should be let off the hook. Of course, we all know how the NHL feels about any slightly dirty hit the Flyers make. Knowing how the NHL operates, they will see the black and orange and they will suspend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

NFL Week 7 Predictions

No intro this week, so let's get right to the picks!

After a bad week of picking games last week (Giants over Saints, what was I thinking?), here are my picks for Week 7 of the NFL season. Remember, all picks are made strictly based on who I think will win and do not take the spread into consideration.

Record Last Week: 7-7, .500
Overall Record: 64-26, .711

Byes: Broncos, Jaguars, Lions, Ravens, Seahawks, Titans

Sunday Day Games:

Packers (3-2) @ Browns (1-5) The Browns made it clear to anyone who was listening that Brady Quinn wasn't going to be made available at the trade deadline. Um, why is that again? If Quinn isn't better than journeyman Derek Anderson right now, what possible future does he have in the NFL? Then again, no team is going to trade for Quinn, anyway, so it doesn't matter if the Browns made him available or not. Look out for the Packers in the coming weeks, the offense is clicking and the defense is only going to get better. My pick: Packers

Chargers (2-3) @ Chiefs (1-5) I really thought the Chargers were going to stop messing around and make the AFC West a race by beating the Broncos last week. Unfortunately, the defense in San Diego just isn't what it used to be and that means they are going to have to put together another late season run if they want to get into the playoffs. As for this game, Philip Rivers has been playing well the last few weeks so they should be able to put up enough points to hold off the Chiefs. My pick: Chargers

Niners (3-2) @ Texans (3-3) I have a feeling that the fast start by the Niners might have more to do with how weak the NFC West is rather than how much they have improved. With Mike Singletary a few bad plays away from going off the deep end, the Niners seem poised to collapse back towards an 8-8 season. The Texans aren't much better, but their offense is scary good, and not just in fantasy football. My pick: Texans

Colts (5-0) @ Rams (0-6) This game looks to be almost as lopsided as the Eagles/Raiders game should have been last week, but don't count on the Colts crapping the bed in this one. When you have a professional quarterback like Peyton Manning and a team with a bunch of proven winners, you don't let the bad teams beat you. To be fair, the Rams are even worse than the Raiders, not that the Eagles should be let off the hook. The fact that newly acquired Brandon Gibson should be suiting up and playing right away tells you all you need to know about the Rams. My pick: Colts

Vikings (6-0) @ Steelers (4-2) The Vikings have to be due, right? The Brett Favre magic has to run out eventually, right? The defending champion Steelers will step up and put Minnesota in their place, right? Right?? My pick: Steelers

Patriots (4-2) @ Bucs (0-6) It looks like the 2007 Patriots are back in business. I mean, how obnoxious is it to be up by 35 points and still be throwing the ball all over the field? Do you really need Tom Brady, who already has looked fragile this year, dropping back to throw the ball in the snow over and over again in a blowout game? Just like in 2007, that karma is going to catch up to you eventually, Patriots. Not in this game, though. Have fun with the blowout, London fans! My pick: Patriots

Bills (2-4) @ Panthers (2-3) It's really a choice of the lesser of two evils in this game, but I have to believe that the Panthers will heed the call of their best player, Steve Smith, and get him the damn ball. We all know that Carolina is primarily a running team but when Smith is not being used at all, something is wrong with your offense. As for the Bills, I can't in good conscience pick a team with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. My pick: Panthers

Jets (3-3) @ Raiders (2-4) This seems familiar, a team wearing green and white that is a sure bet to beat the Raiders? How can they possibly lose? The Jets won't pull an "Eagle" this week, however, because they actually run the ball and have linebackers that can cover people in the secondary. Enjoy your win, Raiders fans, you know your team is still awful and has no future with JaMarcus Russell. Yeah, I guess I'm still bitter. My pick: Jets

Bears (3-2) @ Bengals (4-2) This is one of the tougher games to predict. The Bengals seemed poised to crack into the upper echelon of AFC teams until they fell flat on their face against the Texans. The Bears, too, could have made a statement with a win last week against Atlanta, but they fell short. While we're on the Bears, I'm a little skeptical as to why they extended Jay Cutler's contract this last week. Really, Chicago, what you've seen from Cutler in the first 5 games is enough to extend him through 2013? I know he's the franchise QB but couldn't that have waited until he wasn't averaging more than one interception a game? My pick: Bengals

Falcons (4-1) @ Cowboys (3-2) I didn't think the Falcons could sneak up on the league again this season but it seems like they have come from nowhere to be a really good team again. They did a great job improving their team in the offseason, getting better on both sides of the ball. As for the Cowboys, they are going the opposite direction. Despite their record, they just aren't any good; wins over the Panthers, Chiefs and Bucs don't mean a thing. Their decline continues this week. My pick: Falcons

Saints (5-0) @ Dolphins (2-3) All signs point to this game being a possible trap for the Saints. On the road and out of the dome, a week after knocking off the Giants, against a Dolphins team that can control the clock, things appear to be set up for an upset. Still, much like the Colts did against the Dolphins a few weeks back, the Saints will make the most of whatever time of possession they can get. I don't see the Dolphins defense slowing down Drew Brees and Co. My pick: Saints

Sunday Night Game:

Cardinals (3-2) @ Giants (5-1) Is it a requirement that we have a Manning in a primetime game every week? You have to like the Giants chances to bounce back after their tough loss to the Saints, I see them running all over the Cardinals in this one. My pick: Giants

Monday Night Game:

Eagles (3-2) @ Redskins (2-4) After last week's debacle, it's never safe to assume the Eagles can just show up and beat a bad team. Still, if they got all of that awful football out of their system, you have to think the Eagles will roll over the Redskins. Washington is such a mess right now, with a quarterback controversy between two mediocre QB's and a coach who isn't allowed to call the plays anymore. If the offensive line can block for Donovan McNabb at all in this one, the Birds should roll. If they come out and crap themselves like they did in Oakland last week, all bets are off. My pick: Eagles

Those are my picks for Week 7 of the NFL Season. Check back every Thursday during the season for the latest predictions. Feel free to discuss, argue or make your own picks in the comment section!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Phillies are going back to the World Series!

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
The Phillies are the TWO TIME National League Champions! I can get used to this!

Riding a four homer barrage, the Phillies dropped the Dodgers in Game Five of the NLCS, 10-4, to give them a 4-1 series win and clinch a return trip to the World Series. This game was never in doubt, with the offense jumping out early and the bullpen backing up a middling start by Cole Hamels with several good innings.

The offensive hero for the night was Jayson Werth, who belted two homers and had 4 RBI on the night. Pedro Feliz and Shane Victorino also added homers with the Flyin' Hawaiian adding 3 RBI to the mix. The Phillies once again showed that any hitter in their lineup can beat you, from J-Roll at the top to Mr. Choochtober, Carlos Ruiz, at the bottom.

Now the Phillies have to wait for their opponent, although it will very likely be the Yankees, who hold a 3-1 lead in the ALCS. The Yankees will be a tougher matchup than the Rays were last year, but with the resiliency the Phillies have shown, few can doubt they have what it takes to win another title.

Here is the schedule for the World Series. Remember that the AL has home field advantage because they won the All Star Game:

Game One: Wednesday, October 28th: NL @ AL
Game Two: Thursday, October 29th: NL @ AL
Game Three: Saturday, October 31st: AL @ NL
Game Four: Sunday, November 1st: AL @ NL
Game Five: Monday, November 2nd: AL @ NL
Game Six: Wednesday, November 4th: NL @ AL
Game Seven: Thursday, November 5th: NL @ AL

Anyway we can worry all about the World Series later since we have another week until it starts, it's time to celebrate! Let's celebrate the Phillies and their never-say-die attitude and their all-around greatness. It's hard to go to the World Series in back-to-back seasons but they made it look easy, rolling through the NL once again.

All it takes now is four more wins until they are repeat World F'n Champions!

Sixers waive Christmas, Bowman, whittle roster down to 13

Yes, we do have a basketball team in Philadelphia. And, yes, they are playing preseason games right now. The Sixers have been pushed to a distant 4th in this town, behind the magical Phillies run, the drama surrounding the Eagles and the excitement behind the Flyers, but they have had a solid preseason so far and look like they could be improved under new coach Eddie Jordan.

With the season set to begin in about 2 weeks, the Sixers have made some moves to get their roster ready, waiving guard Dionte Christmas and forward Brandon Bowman. Both players were long shots to earn a roster spot, but I thought Christmas, who is an undrafted rookie out of Temple, had done enough to earn a spot on a team that seems pretty thin at the guard position. Bowman, who graduated from Georgetown in 2006, never seemed likely to crack the Sixers due to their depth at forward.

With these moves, the Sixers roster currently sits at 13 players. The team will need to make one more move to get down to 12, although they will likely just put one player on the injured list since there isn't an obvious cut in the bunch.

Here is the Sixers current roster:

Guards:
Jrue Holiday
Andre Iguodala
Willie Green
Lou Williams
Royal Ivey

Forwards:
Elton Brand
Thaddeus Young
Jason Kapono
Marreese Speights
Jason Smith
Rodney Carney

Centers:
Samuel Dalembert
Primoz Brezec

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Eagles trade Brandon Gibson for MLB Witherspoon

The NFL Trade Deadline is nothing like the baseball or hockey deadlines but occasionally some teams pull off interesting trades. The Eagles were one of those teams today, trading wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a 5th round draft pick to the Rams for veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon.

With Omar Gaither possibly out for a few weeks nursing a foot injury and Jeremiah Trotter being a disappointment at middle linebacker, this trade was a move the Eagles needed to make. Witherspoon, who is an 8 year NFL veteran with the Panthers and Rams, will step in immediately for the Eagles and be the starting MLB. Witherspoon is a hard-working player and a solid tackler who Andy Reid likes because of his ability to cover running backs and tight ends. Although Trotter hasn't been great so far, it is likely the Eagles will still employ a rotation at middle linebacker with Trotter in for running plays and Witherspoon in on obvious passing downs.

Trading Gibson, who was a training camp wonder, is a gamble that he will never reach his full potential. While he has plenty of upside, the Eagles are dealing from a strength so it isn't that big of a loss. When 5 other quality receivers are ahead of you on the depth chart, there really isn't any room for you.

While this trade doesn't guarantee the Eagles a Super Bowl run, it does help solidify their questionable linebacker situation. Ever since Stewart Bradley went down in the preseason, the Eagles have been trying everything to fill their middle linebacker spot. Hopefully Witherspoon can be a stopgap for the rest of the season.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Jimmy Rollins delivers for the Phillies

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
What can you say about the World Champs? They never quit. No matter the deficit, no matter the mountain they have to climb, you can never count the Phillies out of a game.

On Monday night, trailing by one run with two runners on and two outs, Jimmy Rollins created another magical memory with his bat, lacing a line drive deep into the outfield to win the game for the Phillies. The win gives the Phillies a huge 3-1 lead in the NLCS over the Dodgers.

With Game 5 coming Wednesday, the Phillies are just one game away from a return to the World Series. With Cole Hamels taking the mound against Vicente Padilla of the Dodgers, you have to like the Phillies chances. Even if Hamels continues to pitch poorly, you have to think the Phillies will find a way to get to Padilla after he shut them down last time.

So there you have it. The Phillies have given us another moment that we will all remember. Rollins' hit goes right along with Matt Stairs' and Shane Victorino's homers last year, Ryan Howard's heroics this season and all of the big hits Carlos Ruiz has had over the last few years. The Phillies have proven time and time again they are a team of destiny, a team that you can't count out until the final out. What a team, and what a magical October this is already turning out to be.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SimpLee amazing: Phillies cruise to 2-1 series lead

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
It didn't take long for Philly fans to wash the disgusting taste from the Eagles loss out of our mouths. The Phillies, led by an early inning offensive outburst and a dominating performance by Cliff Lee, defeated the Dodgers 11-0 in Game 3 of the NLCS to give the Phillies a 2-1 series lead.

Lee was his usual dominating self, shutting out the Dodgers in his 8 innings of work. He amassed 10 strikeouts on the night while giving up only 3 hits and never allowed the Dodgers to even be a threat to score a run. Lee, who perhaps could be the greatest midseason acquisition in Phillies history, continues to step into the hole vacated by Cole Hamels as the team ace.

Offensively, the Phillies made an effort to not waste another good pitching outing like they did in Game 2, scoring 6 runs in the first two innings. Leading the way were Ryan Howard, who had a triple and 3 RBI, Jayson Werth, who had a 2-run shot, and Shane Victorino, who tacked on a 3-run homer in the 9th inning just for good measure. It was the type of offensive explosion we have come to expect from the Phillies, when they are on, they score their runs in bunches. If only they could have had a few of those hits yesterday.

The Phillies have to feel pretty good about themselves after this one. While any time Lee pitches the team should expect a win, the Phillies can hang their hat on the fact that they are one bad inning in Game 2 from having a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Dodgers. With the series continuing tomorrow in Philadelphia with Joe Blanton taking the mound against ex-Phillie Randy Wolf, the Phillies have a chance to put a stranglehold on this series. If they continue to hit the way they did tonight, nobody is going to stop them from being World Champs again.

Thank goodness for Cliff Lee and the Phillies. I almost forgot about how bad the Eagles were today. Almost.

Disgusting: Eagles lose to Raiders

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
It was supposed to be automatic. The Eagles were just supposed to show up against the Raiders and it was going to be a laugher. The Eagle offense, while it had been inconsistent throughout the year, was going to have a field day, pouring on the points against an anemic Oakland defense. Even if they couldn't score, at least the defense would crush JaMarcus Russell and the Raider offense.

Well, that's why you play the games. Putting forth their most embarrassing effort since tying the Bengals last season, the Eagles failed to score a touchdown and lost, 13-9, to the Raiders. There were too many players at fault in this game to just single out one, especially on offense, where the Eagles were out of sync all day. Donovan McNabb had barely any time in the pocket all game as he was sacked six times and was constantly being rushed into poor throws. That caused the Eagle passing game to be inefficient and with no running game to speak of, the Eagles failed to move the ball all game long.

Defensively, the Eagles weren't terrible. Allowing 13 points against the Raiders isn't a great game but it should have still been good enough to win. The Birds did pick off Russell two times, although they did allow him to complete a season-high 17 passes. The one player that did stick out on defense for how awful he played was Jeremiah Trotter. He was constantly burned in the first half, getting caught trying to chase guys down because he is a step or two slow. He was benched for most of the second half of the game, a sign that his return to the Eagles could be short-lived.

So, what happens now? The Eagles always seem to have that one terrible game a year where they lose a game that should be a gimme, so hopefully this is that game. With the atrocious Redskins on tap for next weekend, most would normally think that should be another automatic win. If they play at all like they did today, though, the Eagles won't be winning another game this season.

Can the Eagles consider themselves contenders in the NFC anymore? A team with hopes of going to the Super Bowl would have crushed a team like the Raiders, much like the Giants did last week. We all know that the Eagles have a way of looking awful one week and great the next, so hopefully this is just a one-week hiccup. With that in mind, Philly fans, there is no need to panic. You don't need to start calling for Kevin Kolb to be the starting quarterback. If this happens again next week, then it's time to start looking for changes to be made.

Eagles/Raiders Week 6 Inactives

The Eagles and Raiders have announced their inactives for their Week 6 game:

Eagles: DE Jason Babin, WR Kevin Curtis, WR Brandon Gibson, G Todd Herremans, QB Kevin Kolb, LB Joe Mays, OL Mike McGlynn, DB Dimitri Patterson

Raiders: LB Ricky Brown, G Robert Gallery, T Cornell Green, FB Luke Lawton, RB Darren McFadden, WR Nick Miller, WR Chaz Schilens, T Langston Walker

The Eagles will be playing with 4 wide receivers once again as Curtis is still not ready to play. Expect another big game from Jeremy Maclin as he remains in the starting role. The only other interesting move by the Eagles today is that Kevin Kolb is the emergency quarterback, meaning Michael Vick is the backup until the 4th quarter. The Eagles must feel pretty confident that Donovan McNabb won't get hurt, although it doesn't really matter who lines up at QB against the Raiders.

As for the Raiders, they will be without their two top offensive players in Schilens and McFadden, making their offense even more inept than usual.

This one should be another easy win for the Eagles. The Raiders are simply a terrible team and anything less than a 20 point win by the Eagles would be considered an upset. GO BIRDS!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Utley, bullpen waste Pedro's brilliance, allow Dodgers to even series

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Talk about wasted opportunities. Through 7 innings in Game 2 of the NLCS, the Phillies were cruising with a 1-0 lead, riding Pedro Martinez's brilliant 2-hit shutout performance. Then, the Phillies turned to their bullpen and everything went downhill from there.

Why the Phillies chose to take Pedro out after only 87 pitches will remain a mystery, but Charlie Manuel turned the game over to Chan Ho Park in the top of the 8th inning. Park subsequently gave up a pair of singles but then forced Russell Martin to hit a double play grounder to Pedro Feliz. Feliz made the throw to second baseman Chase Utley for one out, then Utley did the unthinkable, wildly throwing the ball past first baseman Ryan Howard. The error allowed the Dodgers to tie up the game and gave them new life. From there, the Phillies used four more pitchers in the inning and eventually J.A. Happ walked in the game winning run for the Dodgers.

It's hard not to place the entire blame for this game on Utley. A double play in that situation wouldn't have guaranteed that the Phillies get out of the 8th without giving up a run, but it would have gotten them one out from ending the rally. What makes that play particularly disappointing was that it was Chase Utley that made an error for the second day in a row. If the most reliable Phillie is letting the team down, what chance do they have of getting past the Dodgers?

There is plenty of other blame to be spread around today, though. The bullpen once again couldn't close things out. Charlie Manuel also has plenty of explaining to do as to why he pulled Pedro Martinez. You can't let the bats off the hook, either. Except for the homer by Ryan Howard, where was the Phillie offense? They couldn't get more than one run off of Vicente Padilla?

While this is as tough a loss as you are going to see, Phillies fans need to look at the big picture. The Phillies did split the first two games in L.A., something the team would take every time. While the opportunity to really command the series went out the window, the series is shifting back to Philly for three games and the Phillies do have Cliff Lee taking the mound in Game 3. All hope is nowhere near lost.

It was just one game, folks. One brutally disappointing game, but it's just one game. There's still plenty of series left to play.

Phillies edge Dodgers to strike first in the NLCS

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
We can all exhale now. In a game that had everyone on the edge of their seat throughout, the Phillies narrowly beat the Dodgers, 8-6, in Game 1 of the NLCS. It was a game filled with momentum swings and could have gone either way until the final pitch.

The game was really about two innings for the Phillies offensively: the 5th and the 8th. The Phillies scored 5 runs in the 5th inning when Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw suddenly forgot how to throw a strike, leading him to walk several batters while also giving up a 3-run homer to Mr. Choochtober, Carlos Ruiz, and a 2-run double to Ryan Howard. The big 5th inning forced Kershaw out of the game and allowed the Dodgers to turn to their bullpen, which is one of their biggest strengths.

The Dodger pen held the Phillies until the 8th, when Raul Ibanez struck. Lefthander George Sherill, whose main purpose is to get the lefty-heavy heart of the Phillie order out, walked a pair of batters before giving up a 3-run homer to Ibanez which allowed the Phillies to stretch their lead out.

On the mound for the Phillies, Cole Hamels was once again a far cry from the ace he was last season. Hamels lasted only 5 and a third innings and gave up 4 runs on 8 hits. The Phillies used 6 other pitchers, most of whom had success. The lone exception was Ryan Madson, who continues to have a poor postseason. Brad Lidge, on the other hand, got the final three outs in the 9th despite walking a batter and giving up a single. It may never be pretty for Lidge again but he is at least getting the job done.

The Phillies have now taken home field advantage from the Dodgers. With a quick turnaround to Game 2 tomorrow, the Phillies have a chance to ride the momentum they got from tonight's win to a commanding early lead. The pitching matchup has to favor the Phillies, with Pedro Martinez taking on Vicente Padilla. You have to like Pedro's chances against the former Phillie washout.

1 win down, 3 more to go until a return trip to the World Series. BEAT LA again!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A league divided: NFL Week 6 Predictions

Have you ever seen a bigger collection of undefeated teams and winless teams at this point in the NFL season? While the league loves its parity and the idea of "any given Sunday", it's clear that there are two distinct halves in the league. While I expect a few of the undefeated teams to go down this week, you can almost guarantee that a team with no losses at this point in the season is going to the playoffs. As for the winless teams, well, sorry Titans fans, you better start scouting the college ranks for your top draft pick.

After my worst week of the season, here are my picks for Week 6 of the NFL season. Remember, 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: 57-19, .750

Byes: Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Niners

Sunday Day Games:

Texans (2-3) @ Bengals (4-1)
The "Cardiac Bengals" are certainly the surprise team in the NFL, something everyone picks the Texans to be every year. While most focus on how good the Bengals offense has become with the resurgence of Carson Palmer, Cedric Benson and Chad Ochocinco, it's the defense that is winning games in Cincinnati. Case in point: the Ravens have looked like an offensive juggernaut this season and the Bengals held them to one offensive touchdown last week. My pick: Bengals

Lions (1-4) @ Packers (2-2) The Packers come off their bye week and the tough loss to the Vikings with an easy win against the banged-up Lions. If Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were both playing and healthy, the Lions could have been thinking upset. Alas, while this game might be close as the Pack shakes off some of their bye-week rust, Detroit has no shot in Lambeau. My pick: Packers

Ravens (3-2) @ Vikings (5-0)
This one would be the game of the week if it wasn't for the game listed directly after this. The Ravens and Vikings are two of the more complete teams in the NFL as both teams have a solid defense paired with a top-notch running game. The Vikings have the edge, however, with Mr. Favre's arm. The Minnesota passing game has looked sharp the last few weeks, meaning the team doesn't have to rely on Adrian Peterson to be the entire offense. Of course, once teams start to worry about the pass, that's when Peterson busts one. My pick: Vikings

Giants (5-0) @ Saints (4-0)
This one is big. It's still early in the season, but this game could determine who the number one seed is in the NFC at the end of the year. Both teams have proven they can beat you a number of different ways, with the Giants showing they can actually pass the ball and the Saints showing they can actually run the ball. While Eli Manning's foot injury concerns me and they are on the road, I like the Giants in this one because of their defense. Drew Brees hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in his last two games and that clearly has to change because I don't see the Saints doing much on the ground in this game. I expect it to be close, but the best team in the NFL right now has to be given the edge. My pick: Giants

Panthers (1-3) @ Bucs (0-5)
When are the Bucs going to get that elusive first win? While Josh Johnson looked adequate against the Eagles, the rest of this Tampa Bay team just isn't going to stop anyone or make any big plays. The Panthers aren't that good, either, but Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will have big days eating up the Bucs D. My pick: Panthers

Chiefs (0-5) @ Redskins (2-3)
Which team is actually worse in this game? The Chiefs are awful and winless but they have the better quarterback and better receivers and are coming off a tough loss to the Cowboys. The Redskins, on the other hand, continue to just hand out victories to winless teams. Washington is a complete joke right now but you have to think they will take care of business at home in this one. If not, things are going to get even uglier in D.C. My pick: Redskins

Rams (0-5) @ Jaguars (2-3)
The winner in this one is anyone who avoids watching either of these messy teams. The Jaguars are my pick here only because there is the chance the Jags team that showed up against the Titans a few weeks ago makes another appearance. My pick: Jaguars

Browns (1-4) @ Steelers (3-2)
Congratulations, Browns, for winning a game when your quarterback completed 2 of 17 passes and you failed to score a touchdown. While that actually is quite an accomplishment, there is no way Cleveland can hang with a Steelers team that has to be fuming after blowing it against the Bengals and then playing down to the Lions. My pick: Steelers

Cardinals (2-2) @ Seahawks (2-3) After the Niners got smoked by the Falcons, it became clear that the NFC West is going to be up for grabs all year long, making this game actually pretty important. With Matt Hasselbeck back in the fold, the Seahawks look like they might be the best team in the division. The Cardinals defense has taken a step back after their solid run in the playoffs, so I like Seattle at home here. My pick: Seahawks

Eagles (3-1) @ Raiders (1-4) Seriously, when do the real games begin for the Eagles? Take the Eagles in every possible bet because they will beat the spread and hit the over. The real question in this game is how many points the Raiders are going to score, and anything over 10 will be a disappointment for the Eagles defense. The Birds better use this week to figure out how they are going to get their running game going because it was nonexistent last week against the Bucs. My pick: Eagles

Bills (1-4) @ Jets (3-2) If the Bills could only manage to score 3 points against the lousy Browns, how are they going to put anything on the board against a Jets defense that is pissed off after their poor showing against the Dolphins? T.O. should be imploding any moment now. On another note, I guess all it took for Braylon Edwards to not drop the ball was to play for a team that isn't terrible. My pick: Jets

Titans (0-5) @ Patriots (3-2) I feel for you, Titans fans, this is going to be a tough season. At least you will get to see some more of Vince Young at some point! Is this the week Tom Brady looks like his old self again? We might see his picture on the back of a milk carton if he doesn't snap out of it soon. My pick: Patriots

Sunday Night Game:

Bears (3-1) @ Falcons (3-1) It's hard not to like the Falcons after they dismantled the Niners on Sunday. When that offense is clicking, you have one of the most dangerous teams out there. The Bears are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare but I still like Atlanta at home. My pick: Falcons

Monday Night Game:

Broncos (5-0) @ Chargers (2-2) The Chargers can't count on another late season collapse by the Broncos, so if they want to be a factor in the AFC West, they need to make their move much sooner this year. While I have been down on the Broncos, I have to recognize them as a legit contender now. That said, I'm going to pick against them once again. The Chargers are simply more talented and desperate for a win. My pick: Chargers

Those are my picks for Week 6 of the NFL Season. Check back every Thursday during the season for the latest predictions. Feel free to discuss, argue or make your own picks in the comment section!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Phillies vs. Dodgers: NLCS rematch breakdown

So, we're doing this again, huh? While I was tempted to simply re-post my NLCS breakdown from last year, I figured I should take another look at these two teams and see how they compare this time around. The Phillies have proven again and again that they can win any game, no matter how great the deficit or how much of an underdog people think they are. Do they have it in them to get past the Dodgers and back into the World Series? Here is my position-by-position breakdown of the two teams:

Starting Pitching:
Phillies: Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez
Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw, Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf

The Game One matchup is set, with Cole Hamels facing off against Clayton Kershaw. After that, both teams are keeping it close to the vest as to who they plan to send to the mound. If Cliff Lee continues to dominate and Hamels bounces back, the Phillies will have a big advantage at starting pitcher. The Dodgers do feature a pair of lefty starters that could give the Phillies trouble in Kershaw and Randy Wolf, but they really don't have an ace or a stopper on the level of a Lee or Hamels. What the Dodgers do have is depth, as they could send Chad Billingsley, Vicente Padilla or Hiroki Kuroda to the mound to start a game. While none of those names are particularly scary, each is capable of giving the team a few solid innings. It's a mystery which right handed pitcher the Phillies will use in this series, although I would bet money that you are going to see Pedro Martinez at some point. J.A. Happ is less likely to get a start because the Dodger lineup is much more balanced than the Rockie lineup. Edge: Phillies

Bullpen:
Phillies: Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge, Scott Eyre, Brett Myers
Dodgers: Jonathan Broxton, George Sherill, Hong-Chih Kuo

Last year, this was a major advantage for the Phillies. This year, not so much. The Dodgers have a weak starting rotation that doesn't go deep into games by design because their bullpen is so dominant. Not only do they have one of the best closers in the game in Jonathan Broxton, but the Dodgers also have a pair of lefties in George Sherill and Hong-Chih Kuo that are going to giving the middle of the Phillies order fits. Even if Brad Lidge is truly back to form, the Phillies bullpen still has more question marks than solid options. Ryan Madson didn't look great in his last outing against the Rockies but I do like that Charlie Manuel is using him in the most crucial parts of the game. There is a possibility that Chan Ho Park will be healthy enough to pitch in the NLCS which will give the Phils a major boost. Edge: Dodgers

Catcher:
Phillies Carlos Ruiz
Dodgers: Russell Martin

While Russell Martin is nowhere near as good as he was last season, he's still one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Carlos Ruiz is Mr. Clutch, however, and he calls a great game behind the plate. Last year, I gave the Dodgers the edge at catcher but Chooch has passed Martin by with his playoff performances. Edge: Phillies

Infield:
Phillies: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz
Dodgers: James Loney, Ronnie Belliard, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake

I stand by my assertion that the Phillies have the best infield in the game offensively and an argument can be made that it is the best defensively as well. With Ryan Howard making clutch hits and Jimmy Rollins and Pedro Feliz making for an incredibly solid left side of the infield, the Dodgers simply can't match up with the Phillies here. While they are all reliable at the plate, none of the Dodger infielders hit .300 or had 20 homers, so they just don't match up with the Phillies. Edge: Phillies

Outfield:
Phillies: Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth
Dodgers: Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier

The Phillies have the three All-Stars but the Dodgers still have the edge here. While Manny hasn't quite been Manny this year, he still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Matt Kemp is also a star in the making and the NLCS could be his breakout party. Don't underestimate Andre Ethier, ether, as he hit .500 and had a pair of homers against the Cardinals in the NLDS. The Phillies have a few studs in their own right in the outfield but they aren't relied upon to be the heavy hitters like the Dodgers outfielders are. Edge: Dodgers

Bench:
Phillies: Ben Francisco, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs
Dodgers: Juan Pierre, Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson

The Dodgers bench is loaded. They have defensive replacements that can still swing the stick in Juan Pierre and Orlando Hudson and a dangerous pinch hitter in Jim Thome. The Phillies also have their own version of Thome in Matt Stairs, but after Stairs and Francisco it falls way off. If the Phillies have to send up Greg Dobbs in a key situation late in the game, they are in trouble. Edge: Dodgers

Manager:
Phillies: Charlie Manuel
Dodgers: Joe Torre

Last year, I said Joe Torre had a huge advantage because of all of his experience with the Yankees. Charlie Manuel has proved to be the better manager right now, however, with how he manages his bullpen and his bench to get the most out of them. Charlie always seems to be making the right calls and pushing the correct buttons, so until he makes a big mistake, he has to be considered one of the elite managers in the game. Edge: Phillies

My prediction:
The Phillies have the overall edge by these categories, 4-3. While the bullpen could still be a major issue, I still like the Phillies in six. I just think their offense is too good to be held back by the Dodgers weak starting pitching, so they will get early leads and never look back. The Dodgers will likely steal a few in the late innings but the Phillies starting pitchers will win a few games on their own.

It's a great time to be a Phillie fan, there is nothing like being right on the doorstep of another World Series. While the Dodgers will be a formidable opponent, you have to like the Phillies chances to BEAT LA!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Phillies vs. Dodgers: NLCS Schedule

The rematch is on! The Phillies and Dodgers will meet in the NLCS for the second year in a row, although this time the Dodgers have the home field advantage. Here is the schedule for the NLCS, with times and probable pitchers listed for some games:

Game 1: Thursday, October 15th: Phillies (Hamels) @ Dodgers (Kershaw), 8:07 pm

Game 2: Friday, October 16th: Phillies @ Dodgers, 4:37 pm

Game 3: Sunday, October 18th: Dodgers @ Phillies, 8:07 pm

Game 4: Monday, October 19th: Dodgers @ Phillies, 8:07 pm

Game 5: Wednesday, October 21st: Dodgers @ Phillies, 8:07 pm

Game 6: Friday, October 23rd: Phillies @ Dodgers, 8:07 pm

Game 7: Saturday, October 24th: Phillies @ Dodgers, 8:07 pm

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bring on the Dodgers! The Phillies are going back to the NLCS

(AP Photo)
The Phillies are going back to the NLCS!

In a game that was a roller coaster of emotions, the Phillies pulled out a thrilling 5-4 Game 4 victory over the Rockies to win the NLDS and move on to a rematch with the Dodgers in the NLCS.

The Phillies proved once again that you can never count them out, even when down by two runs and down to their final out. With the Phils trailing 4-2 in the 9th, Ryan Howard hit a clutch double to bring in a pair of runs and Jayson Werth followed with a single to bring Howard home and give the Phillies the lead. After another nail-biting bottom of the 9th with the Phillies bullpen, Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge managed to close the door and clinch the series for the Phils.

Of course, the game would have been a lot less interesting had the Phillies not given up 3 runs in the bottom of the 8th. Cliff Lee, who pitched a marvelous game, ran into some trouble in the 8th and allowed two runners on base, the second one getting on after a botched play by Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Ryan Madson entered the game after that and the Rockies offense woke up, getting clutch hits from Jason Giambi and Yorvit Torrealba to give the Rockies a huge 2 run lead.

None of what happened earlier mattered, though, as the Phillies proved once again that no deficit is too great. Tonight's game is exactly why they are the World Champs: they never give up. The confidence they showed with their backs against the wall, when they were down to their final out, even their final strike, was simply amazing.

Bring on the Dodgers! While some of the names have changed, the Phillies now get to face off against the team they shoved aside in the NLCS last year. With the magic they continue to pull out, a return trip to the World Series seems like a pretty solid bet. GO PHILLIES!

Phillies survive the cold, take 2-1 series lead

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
I'm going to keep this short and sweet thanks to the geniuses at MLB who decided to schedule this game in the middle of the night.

The Phillies survived the cold, some rather questionable umpiring and a save situation with Brad Lidge to overcome the Rockies in a 6-5 marathon game that ended at 2:14 AM. The win puts the Phillies in the drivers seat for the series as they are one win away from moving on with Cliff Lee taking the hill tomorrow (today!) for Game 4.

The Phillies had no individual hero in the game, rather a collective effort from nearly everyone who played. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ didn't last long, going only 3 innings before the Phillies turned to their bullpen to keep them in it. The Phils ended up using 5 pitchers out of the 'pen, and, for the most part, they all did their jobs. Ryan Madson was the biggest savior, entering the game in a sticky situation and only giving up one run after Scott Eyre injured himself allowing two runners on base with no outs.

Having Lidge close out the game, no matter how dicey it got, was also huge for the Phillies. If Lidge can be even a shadow of what he was in 2008, the Phillies have a real shot at going the distance again.

Kudos to everyone that stayed up to watch the Phillies pull out a nail-biter in Colorado. With Game 4 just about 15 hours after Game 3, let's hope the Phils take some momentum from this win into the next one and finish out Colorado. Maybe once the Phillies are in the NLCS we will actually be able to watch these games at a reasonable hour.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Eagles cruise past Tampa Bay despite sloppy play

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Normally when a team is penalized 10 times and makes an inexperienced quarterback look good, they lose. Not the Eagles, though, as they found a way to overcome their shortcomings on defense and special teams to beat down the Bucs, 33-14.

The reason the Eagles were able to win this one easily? Their offense was dominating. With Donovan McNabb returning to the field, the Birds offense clicked all game long, picking up a number of big plays while basically looking unstoppable. McNabb spread the ball around the field to 7 different receivers, although his number one target was Jeremy Maclin, who started the game at wide receiver in place of the injured Kevin Curtis. Maclin made the most of his opportunity, catching 6 passes for 142 yards and 2 long touchdowns of 51 and 40 yards. Maclin looks like the real deal and it's only a matter of time before he supplants DeSean Jackson as the Birds number one receiver.

As for the things the Eagles did poorly today, there were quite a few. While they did manage to pick off Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Johnson three times, the Bucs offense moved the ball all day long on the Eagles defense. Johnson threw for 240 yards and kept the Bucs driving down the field thanks to some timely throws and some timely penalties on the Eagles. The Birds were mired with penalties all day long, committing 10 of them for 111 yards, all 10 of which seemed to happen at the worst possible time. Despite looking mediocre throughout the day, the Eagles defense does deserve credit for clamping down when they needed to, sacking Johnson three times and even getting a safety late in the game.

The Eagles special teams were also a mess today, committing their fair share of penalties. Just once I'd like to see the Eagles go a quarter or even a half without holding someone or blocking someone in the back on a return. That's not too much to ask, is it?

While some Philadelphia fans will complain that the Eagles weren't dominating enough, you really can't complain with a 33-14 win for the Birds. The Eagles beat down a poor team just like we expected them to despite not being perfect on either side of the ball. They have a few things to work on, a few tweaks to make, but what team has everything figured out 5 weeks into a season anyway? With a game against the Raiders next week, the Eagles have another game to work the kinks before they start playing the real teams.

Great job by the Eagles offense today, now just knock off all those penalties and clean up the special teams and they will be just fine when they start playing some real teams.

Eagles/Bucs Week 5 Inactives: McNabb and Westbrook are back

The Eagles and Bucs have announced their inactives for their Week 5 matchup:

Eagles: DE Jason Babin, WR Kevin Curtis, DB Quintin Demps, WR Brandon Gibson, OG Todd Herremans, DT Trevor Laws, LB Joe Mays, OL Mike McGlynn

Bucs: OL Marc Dile, T Demar Dotson, C Jeff Faine, RB Earnest Graham, QB Byron Leftwich, S Corey Lynch, DT Dre Moore, DE Kyle Moore

The best news for the Eagles are the two players who aren't on the inactive list: Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook will return to action after missing Week 3. The bye week was just what the two stars needed to get healthy, although it wasn't enough time for Kevin Curtis to get himself back on the field. Rookie Jeremy Maclin will get his first start at wide receiver in place of Curtis. The only other inactive player that is surprising is Trevor Laws. Laws wasn't injured this week but I guess someone had to sit because the Eagles chose to have all 3 quarterbacks active for the game. Brandon Gibson returns to the bench, giving the Eagles only 4 active wide receivers. Also, remember that Jeremiah Trotter will make his Eagles re-debut today. Let's see if the old guy has got it anymore.

For the Bucs, Earnest Graham is the biggest name inactive. Graham wasn't doing much in the offense this season anyway, so the Bucs won't miss him. Byron Leftwich has fallen like a rock from starting QB to emergency QB.

With McNabb and Westbrook returning to the field, this game has all the makings of a blowout. The Bucs are a terrible team and the Eagles look ready to hit their stride. Go Birds!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pitching change: Happ to replace Pedro in Game 3

With the postponement of Game 3 until tomorrow, the Phillies have announced a change in their starting pitcher: J.A. Happ will now take the mound instead of Pedro Martinez. Clearly, the Phillies want a left hander facing this Rockies lefty-heavy lineup, so Happ, given an extra day of rest, makes for the smart choice.

With Happ pitching Game 3, Cliff Lee likely pitching Game 4 and Cole Hamels set for Game 5 if need be, the Phillies are now going to put a lefty on the mound to start every game this series. In the playoffs you take every advantage you can get.

Game 3 canceled today

Bad news: Game 3 was postponed today due to snow, to be made up tomorrow when they were supposed to play Game 4. The good news? This means Cliff Lee should be ready to pitch in Game 4.

Why do they play baseball in Denver, anyway?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hamels falters as Rockies even up series

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Today will be a memorable day for Cole Hamels but not for anything he did on the mound. Hamels, who everyone hoped would magically be the 2008 shutdown pitcher once again, had a poor performance in Game 2 for the Phillies, giving up 4 runs in his 5 innings of work. The Phillies eventually fought back into the game but the runs Hamels gave put the Phillies in a hole that they never climbed out of as they lost 5-4 to the Rockies. Oh, and the reason today will be memorable for Hamels? Heidi Hamels went into labor with the couple's first child.

Once Hamels was pulled from the game, Charlie Manuel started making some curious decisions with his bullpen. Instead of turning to the usual bullpen suspects, Manuel went with his starters, putting Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ in for the 6th and 7th innings. The move was a definite mixed bag as Blanton got through his inning unscathed but Happ got beaned with a line drive in the knee and had to be pulled from the game. The injury to Happ is the reason why you don't use all of your starters in relief. While Happ only has a knee contusion and X-rays were negative, he most certainly won't be in the mix to start on Saturday, forcing Manuel to go with a right-handed starter against the lefty-heavy Rockies lineup. Manuel still has two good choices in Blanton and Pedro Martinez but the Phillies have yet to announce who will take the mound for Game 3.

The Phillies did well to fight back in the later stages of the game but eventually fell short. Jayson Werth led the way with a homer as the Phils got all of their offense from their first 7 hitters. It would be nice if the team decided to score a few runs in the early innings but you can't fault the offense for this loss, they nearly had a win if Shane Victorino's line drive in the bottom of the 9th was just a little higher.

So the Phillies now head to Denver with the series tied at 1 game apiece. While some of the confidence of yesterday's loss has worn off, the Phillies are still in a great position to win the series. If they find a way to split the games in Colorado, they will head back home for a Game 5 and throw Cliff Lee out there in the deciding game. Of course, if they lose Game 3, they could always put Lee on the mound for Game 4 to ensure they won't get eliminated early.

Game 2 was a tough loss for the Phillies but there are plenty more games to be played in this series. Game 3 becomes the crucial game that gives one team a major advantage; let's hope the Phillies have a starter ready to give them some solid innings.