Saturday, April 29, 2006

House Protected!

Boy, have the last few days have been a little satisifying for the Flyers’ fan or what? For example, the moronic Canadien hockey press and this curious Sabres' blog has gone from mocking the Flyers’ game (too slow and plodding), chances (down 2-0 in games and looking real confused) and admiring Umberger’s unconscious form laid out at HSBC Arena in Buffalo to a respectful silence. To continue the same theme, this respectful Buffalo News article gets it right: Sabres Get Serious Reality Check.

I like this quote best: "Basically, the Sabres looked frightened, the Flyers frightening." It is the sort of article that could run in the Philadelphia Daily News when the Eagles' lose a division game! Delicious!

Fools! The number one tonic for ailing teams in Philadelphia- brusied, beaten, embarrassed- is to come home to the willing embrace of America’s number one ill-tempered mob. Seriously, how many times does this sort of thing have to happen before people “get it”?

I’m being silly of course. To be honest, the Flyers haven’t really looked that much more orderly at home. Esche has been pretty good- some big stops on breakaways and penalty shot- but you can’t hang great on an effort that features four goals allowed. And continually, the defense is alternately badly outskated and outmanuevered, taking the sort of penalties you sort of have to take after being beaten, or barely hanging on for long periods.

Last night, down 2-0 fairly quickly, the Flyers dug in. Desjardins has been a little lost this series- but he keeps digging- and easily had his best game of the series: “+2” for once- and an unbelievably big goal to get the Flyers back in it late in the first period. Since returning to Philadelphia and getting the match-up choices, Hitchcock continually plays the Forsberg line against Buffalo top grouping- and they candidly are destroying Buffalo in that contest. Umberger avenged his national shellacking with the tie-breaking goal in the third period. The referees kept the whistle in their pocket- giving the Sabers only four power plays- despite the Flyers featuring the same level of murky dasher play that put them in the box somewhere between 8-12 times previously. And facing two gut checks in the third period- first when quickly blowing the lead in the third period, then after re-taking it- the Flyers did what they have kinda done pretty well all series (outside of the second game): grimly hang on.

But while still outplaying the Flyers, Buffalo has undoubtedly gotten a little less crisp, a little more jumpy. I think the Flyers' relentless physical assault is taking some toll. Buffalo's public list of wounded is growing. Defenseman Teppo Numminen was missing- albeit for non-hockey reasons. Now, winger Jochen Hecht has an "upper-body injury." And the quiet, private list is undoubtedly growing also.

I have no real unique observation- other than to say “Kudos to Freddie Meyer”. I’ve been rough on Freddie all season long- he’s been a real poster child for the nature of the “emergency NHL sixth defensemen who sort of has to play”. But I thought he played pretty well last night- and he got some ice time late. Protecting the one goal lead, Hitchcock gave him a chance to play.

Looking at Freddie, you are never impressed with his work inside his own blue line. Yes, he has some offensive punch (27 points in 57 games- not bad). But last night, Hitchcock seemed to make a determination that since he can’t trust two of his other defensemen (Rathje and Gauthier) to stay out of the box in the third period- to give the kid a look. Freddie was able to sort of stay within himself. He has good wheels- he got to the puck and made good decisions: no bad turnovers, moved the puck up ice quickly, no penalties, paid the physical price of NHL corner play. I only mention this because the Flyers needed to find some more positive play from the defense- and they got some last night from Freddie. I bet he gets sixteen minutes again in Buffalo.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Back in Black!

Back in black! Good to see these colors back where they belong- on a stock car at Talladega Superspeedway.

In other news of sweet understanding, the cowardly JP Dumont "forgave" Denis Gauthier for spearing him. Frankly, I think Dumont wants no more Philadelphia style hockey. My response: spear him again if it means a guaranteed Game Six.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Our House!

I gotta admit. I was very satisfied with the Philadelphia Flyers win last night. It is particularly satisfying considering everyone- and I mean everyone- had them dead & buried after the disaster in Buffalo. Don't you know you are never out of a hockey playoff series until you lose a home game? And as a result, the precious Cup could still come to Philadelphia!

But I was very satisfied by our avenging of Umberger. And you bet the fans let Buffalo know it. WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE! You know Dumont wants no more Philadelphia-style hospitality.

Now, you can’t credibly criticize the status quo when you are getting punished by it. So the Flyers' win was important- as it serves as my Antietam. Lincoln needed Antietam to push emancipation without it sounding desperate- and I needed last night’s victory to rip the officiating in the play-offs.

If the NHL’s intention was to inject the referees into this series, well, they are to be congratulated. Paul Devorski and Brad Meier were the two most important guys on the ice last night. Again.

I mean- do we really want cheap obstruction foul on Petr Nedved to be the determining factors in a glorious test of honor and stamina? A nasty game- decided because of diving penalty on Buffalo’s Roy with five minutes to go? I never understood why the NHL didn’t seen the pure entertainment value of sport featured in a semi-lawless New Jersey-Philadelphia, Montreal-Boston, Colorado-Detroit play-off series of the past few years- and consider carefully whether that was worth giving away to ensure Roy is punished for diving at the end of a close game? Man, if he isn’t diving- then he ain’t really trying, right? And the only reason he’s diving is that he thinks it might get called.

Don’t blame the referees- they look miserable and ashamed to part of this farce.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Spring & Football?

After watching the spring game, a cynic might point out one positive thing that simply leapt out: Beckman punted well. Heck, he punted great. And let’s face it, it behooves Tulane more than a lot of other programs to excel here. (Photo credit)

I was a little disappointed in the game however. Normally, you leave a game like that filled with exciting new reasons to hope- or players that caught your eye. I found the game simply confirmed, almost to the letter, what can be anticipated from the key members of the squad.

Offensively, it took Ricard awhile to get in rhythm- and when he did, he was fine. But we know this about Ricard already, right? Put in a familiar situation, without having to worry about pressure, given time within the game context, he clearly relaxes at some level and plays real well. And when he plays real well, he’s got a whole lot of scary good tools in that frame to punish you. So yeah, he was categorically impressive at times.

However, the standard struggles getting adjusted- and yes, a pair of not-so-good turnovers on pretty routine throws- remain. He is the exact same guy- always struggling under any sort of duress- but very capable of lighting it up in positive playing conditions. In other quarterback news, young Scelfo impressively knew the offense- or at least the dozen plays he was asked to run. Four throws- all to the right guy- and right there. But I imagine he’ll need to show more before he pushes Elliot.

The perimeter skill guys were the nicest surprise. Brown was quiet- but we know that he is a studly C-USA player- so he gets a pass. There were some dropped balls- but hey, its spring. But there were a variety of body types: speed guys, possession guys, one of the tight ends looks gorgeous size-wise- all who looked in terms of either or good height/body as being a real plus in our League. A lot of guys caught multiple balls- and looked darn athletic doing it.

Forte had a nice day. Any honest deconstruction of this guy admits he can run- and he was able to rip off some big, charismatic runs against a defense similar to the ones 2004 Army and Northeast Louisiana put out there (i.e. arguably more good for I-AA than bad I-A). But we already know Forte can do that- use his speed to beat awful 2004 Army-level defenses either to the corner or reinforcements to the point of attack. But he had a bunch of runs go no further than the first guy who touched him- still weak on his feet. And his next vote for all-League will be his first- and yes, I still doubt we’ll see it this year either.

But Forte seemed “better”- and did show enough to suggest he could contribute back as the back who catches the ball and provides the change-of-pace. But who gets those other carries? Beats me. Boudreaux had a most fun day- but he is categorically not a I-A running back. And no one else showed much. I am not all that familiar with the bottom of the depth chart- and there was no program per se- but Tulane doesn’t seem to have many running backs.

The defense is harder to evaluate. Ricard and Forte gouged them for big chunks of yards- but the untaxed Ricard is a good I-A quarterback and he was in his yellow submarine for the latter half of the game. He’d shred a lot of people playing like that. But there was nothing to suggest that Tulane’s traditional inability to stop people with a modicum of capacity rushing the football will change. It is the same guys looking pretty much the same to me.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Let's Get Ready To Obstruct!

Your name is Kerry Fraser. You were born in 1952 in Sarnia, Ontario- and tonight, you officiate around your 250th NHL play-off game. It is Game Six in Philadelphia. The Flyers- down a game to Buffalo- fight savagely- clinging to a one goal lead with twelve minutes to play. Suddenly Chris Drury lunges out of his own end with the puck, flanked by the graceful and lethally quick Maxim Afinogenow- who looks hungrily at the lumbering Mike Rathje backpedaling to his blue line. Afinogenow wheels sharply at the Flyers zone- leaving Rathje a step behind- and Drury adroitly slips the puck toward him. The Flyers defensemen reaches out with a glove, costing Maxim half-a-stride- and the puck slides harmlessly into the corner…

You are Kerry Fraser- what do you do? Do you put your arm in the air- or is the puck promptly retrieved by a back-checking winger, banked off the boards and floated safely to center ice?

That answer goes a long way to answering the question who carries this Buffalo-Philadelphia series. On paper, the Flyers got some real problems here. I saw one website prognosticator give the edge to Buffalo everywhere: up front, the blue line, goalie, specials, coaching, etc.

And yes, the Flyers have the two best forwards- Gagne and Forsberg- but Buffalo has more good, quick ones. Those quick Buffalo forwards are right out of central casting in terms of tormenting the Flyers slow defense: Rathje (hurt), Hatcher (immobile) and Gauthier. Desjardins is steady- but Meyer and Pitkanen are going to have to play too. And relying on your fifth and sixth defensemen to have to contribute is normally a road to failure in big spots. The goalie match-up is a wash, at best, for Philadelphia. Miller’s been great- but Esche has played pretty well recently.

Buffalo plays great special teams; the Flyers are indifferent to horrid.

And yet, the series line is pretty “even”; Buffalo a slight fave mainly because of the extra home game. And the “why?” is Kerry Fraser and his peers. If this series is officiated like a series of regular season games, I imagine the power play differential, coupled with that extra home game being ultimately determinant.

But we know from the old NHL that big, strong defensemen can absolutely neutralize fast skill players if allowed to obstruct players off the puck. And my gut feeling is, with both games and series both at 3-2, Fraser is gonna be loathe to put guys in the box for away from the puck nonsense. You simply won’t see a dozen power plays a night.

Accordingly, the Flyers have a chance. They’ll get Forsberg about as healthy as he’ll ever be- and I bet he has at least one round to give them. It helps Philadelphia to start on the road too; they’ll play relaxed- get the needed game out there- and get the series squared 2-2 after returning to Philadelphia. And the tone of the series will change over those last three games- maybe not the "anything goes" wars that used to characterize the East- but enough liberalities will be permitted to turn these skilled Buffalo wingers into a shell of their former selves. Flyers win in seven.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Co-Division Champions!

Despite topping the Atlantic Division with 101 points, the Flyers lost the Division title to New Jersey last night- undoubtedly due to some esoteric and unfair tie-breaker. Nevertheless, despite a bizarre up-and-down season with never ending anxiety- coupled with a very gratifying total Ranger collapse- the Flyers largely got the job done. (Confidential to Ranger fans: Donald Brashear is laughing at you.)

Frankly, it is probably better this way. One fewer New Jersey point, and Flyers would have been hosting those same Devils- a nasty medicine every Philadelphian wants no part of. Granted, they get the Sabres instead, an outfit absolutely designed to torture their immobile defensive corps. The Flyers will get utterly embarrassed at least once in this series. But with a little reversion back to the old NHL rules- and a chance to beat on those hopefully a bit soft finks every other night for two weeks- Philadelphia has a decent chance. Do you have a feeling Buffalo will miss Satan more than a little?

Play-off pick later in the week.

Now, I have no clue how the Flyers managed to have the most points in the division. None.

Look at the Devils- my pre-season pick to win the Cup- and I have no reason to change that opinion. New Jersey’s top-notch front office and coaching staff adopted beautifully to the “new” NHL. Their line-up includes a one time truly world class goalie rounding into very good form. Solid depth on defense. A wonderfully gifted skating and scoring top line- and a bunch of competent role-players following up.

The Flyers are horrid and disorganized in their own end. They allowed 44 more goals than the Rangers- and as a team have only scored eight more goals than they’ve allowed. I have no idea how those numbers translate into 101 points. They were/are riddled with injuries to people like Johnnson, Primeau and Forsberg. No one had any clue what they are going to get between the pipes any given night (although both guys have admittedly been very good for streches). And yet, there the Flyers are- same number of points. Why?

1. The Flyers got some help. They grinded wins out from week one until the end- while the Rangers were great early and bad late, and the Devils the reverse.

2. They played a lot of young players early- which gave them some energy and heady play during the doldrums.

3. The goalies, for decently long periods, played pretty well.

4. They traveled not only well, but super well: 51 points on the road! Buffalo had 53- best in the East.

Now, sshhh... I kinda like Tampa Bay in the first round.

They're winners who can skate and Grahme is a pretty underrated player.

The rulebook is going to get a little loser- not like the old days perhaps, but some of this moronic off the puck stuff- and I know the Lightning can play their game in that environment. For one thing, they have a big shiny trophy in their lobby to prove it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

You fix it

Now that the season is, for all intents and purposes, over for the 76ers, it is time for that Philadelphia tradition: bitter recriminations. So, looking honestly at the Sixers....

Heck, you do it. You fix them if you’re so smart.

I must admit I want to throw up my hands. Not in disgust- but in a "what happened?" sort of languor. The Sixers aren’t bad exactly. I picked them to be a few games over .500- and they’ll probably finish a handful of game under. They’d have probably made the play-offs and reached .500 had Dalembert not missed a couple of dozen games. And please- the East? The Wiz are, what, two games ahead of the Sixers? Is anyone sure Milwaukee, Indiana or Chicago would handle the boys four times? Yes, Orlando is probably better than all five of the squads listed- but only for the last month or so.

They aren't horrid- but what can you do? Candidly, I don’t think they ought to move Webber until the end of next season. Right now, he's a banged up big man and owed big money. They probably would have to "pay" to move him- take another contract mess back. But next year, Webber becomes valuable. The fact that Chris can still play pretty good, coupled with his then single remaining big money year, becomes valuable to the right team. You could rid yourself of AI- but then the Sixers really be bad and boring in a hurry. I don’t think any sane person wants to give up on Dalembert.

I simply don't buy the problems being any amalgamation of Webber and Iverson and offense. Any good offensive team, which (yo people!) the Sixers probably are, faces questions of the optimal ball/shot distribution. These are problems of largesse- and are fixable/adjustable.

Instead, the Sixers problems are the pretty darn obvious. First and foremost, they just can't defend anyone inside- or a perimeter player who can get inside. If Dalembert is not on the court, they have zero effective size or mobility down low. No one outside of Dalembert is big enough to defend the ball or quick enough to help out. And Dalembert is a problematic consistent contributor- because he can’t stop fouling people. Its amazing, you feel he starts the game in foul trouble.

Iggy is only plus defender on the whole roster who plays. AI is sort of average. Yes, yes, we all know he is a below average on the ball defender. But he does sort of compensate. AI creates a lot of boundary turnovers, loose balls, and steals- places on the court where they turn into easy transition points. He is a good open court player who simply kills you for offensive mistakes, long boards off missed shots, etc. The other guards and forwards are a problem though. In a way, you can live with Webber because his board totals are darn good- and a guy with ten plus rebounds is simply not killing you on defense most nights. But the rest...

The 76ers also get absolutely nothing from the bench. Unlike O'Brien last year, Mo Cheeks has singularly failed to develop any sort of tactical help for himself. There is no role playing here- no instant offense, no defense help, no size, no rebounding, no ball handling. And I’m oh-so-tired of Kyle Korver. He can’t play defense- and you know what, he isn’t that great an offensive force. Every time I hear other NBA people talk about his potential, I want to throw something at the television and scream “Then trade us someone who can come off the bench and do something semi-good every night.”

No one listens.

It is not an easy fix- and I’m tempted to say the best thing is to sit on these cards for another year. Try and find another real NBA player or two- and get a lottery player who can defend tomorrow for 25 minutes. Hope Iggy (probably) and Dalembert (maybe) and Korver (dear Heaven) get better- and Webber and AI stay healthy. Not likely perhaps- but not totally ridiculous- and better than any option I can think of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


In today's Philadelphia Daily News, Rich Hoffman writes the obligatory pre-throwing in the towel column. You know, the one before you actually throw in the towel.

But this characterization of Philadelphia fans made me laugh out loud:

Two weeks then, more or less. That is how long it will take the sour tone to be set in cement.

Because that is where we are as a town in 2006. As a major American sports city, in the unvarnished northeastern quadrant of the country, without a professional championship since 1983, Philadelphia does not do gutty little underdogs, not anymore, not with its pro teams. Philadelphia does not embrace fighting back from adversity. It wallows in the adversity instead, and expends its energy taking names.

Accordingly, PhilliesNation is taking names- becoming the first site in 2006 I can find to officially call for the head of Charlie Manuel. Barring a 10-25 start, there is little chance of that. Outside of the true phanatics, everyone sane realized this team isn't going anywhere this year. To be honest, if Gillick thought it was a great ball club, he'd have his guy in here already. 84 wins is the upside- and Gillick knows this.

Gillick has a "free option", from now until opening day 2007, to pick the guy he wants to head this clubhouse. Ultimately, 2006 doesn't matter to him or the organization from a won-loss total- unless the Phillies get lucky. I mean, they'll take a miracle 93 win campaign. But he has a whole year to find the right guy- a whole year of firings from other clubs making other folks available, an off-season of expiring contracts, etc. Why rush? If Gillcik thought firing Charlie would really help, it have been done already.

But if he fires Manuel now, he has to take what is avalable. Why cash in that free option early?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Time to Panic

Well, I know I am panicking.

Last week, I wrote I thought the Phillies were a little worse than the consensus- and would scuffle to finish a few games over .500. In retrospect, that frankly might have been a pretty jolly projection.

It is too early to make any definitive observations about the pitching- and anyway, no one projected the staff and bullpen to help this team week after week. Pitching was always going to be something this club suffered through- filled with longing for a nice surprise or two.

I more worried about the offense. I have never really bought into the Phils as a burgeoning offensive monster. Lately, Jimmy Rollins might be a very good, surprisingly consistent “hitter”. But to be a very good, surprisingly consistent lead-off asset, you gotta get on base somewhere around 40% of your at bats- and Rollins for his career is around 33% (34% last year). Jimmy hasn’t shown the plate discipline required to add 35 more walks to his season totals to get there. And realistically, he probably isn’t a .310 –style hitter. Rollins candidly is probably never going to be a very good lead-off hitter.

There is no true number two hitter, or at least Manuel has not found anyone to do the required things there. And the bottom three line-up spots are an utter black hole- further crippled by the fact the Phillies seem to be determined to get David Bell 450 at bats even if it kills them.

A 7-13 start would go a long way to burying a team with this pitching staff. To go from six under to six over .500 means a month-plus of playing great- and the Phillies pitching almost ensures they can't possibly play consistently great for six weeks. Worse, to even manage a 7-13 start means this club has to sort out some big problems all while playing near .500 ball. Problematic.

Friday, April 07, 2006


70118? A New Orleans zip code? Or a conservative estimate as to the number of rushing yards Tulane will allow this year? And does the picture to the left not remind you went it all started going wrong?

The Times-Picayune is reporting that Christian Ducré, from Fountainbleau High School, has left the team- along with Ace Foyil (a nice linebacking prospect the Wave would have loved to have played this year) and Matt Slocum (a semi-servicable C-USA defensive linemen).

Ducré departure hurts the most. He was electric in practice last year- and Tulane’s other backfield options are problematical. I have really no clue why he couldn't get on the field in real games last year.

The tailback position was a real problem for Tulane all last year. Entering the season, the Green Wave had two upperclassmen penciled ahead of the true freshman- and they consequently red-shirted Ducré. It got to be a little crazy quickly- when the top two tailbacks did nothing week after week, behind a more-than-decent offensive line, against the pitiful rush defenses that populate C-USA. But Scelfo was determined not to take the red-shirt off the kid- and the Wave never had a decent tailback all season.

I always thought that was pretty dumb. Red-shirting TBs isn't as important as red-shirting linemen. Linemen grow and develop; red-shirting a skill position player only makes sense if you have no playing time for him. And again, Tulane’s TB situation was a disaster last year- so Ducré could have helped. No way he could have been worse than what we did get out of that spot.

Worse, I really was, in the back of my head, carrying tailback as a "plus" C-USA position for the Wave this year- the nice surprise of the team- due to Ducré. And now the two young players with the most potential are gone: Ducre and Ace.

Wide reciever now is the only position on the field that the Wave can "project" to be better than average for C-USA. Where else? The back seven on defense candidly project as uncompetitive. The defensive line, if everything works out, might be okay. Forte and Ricard were candidly not good last year. The o-line has some players- but again a lot has to work out right here- and there is zero depth & little experience. Same thing with TE.

If Ricard doesn't get real better real fast- or the back-up blossom- this has 1-win, 2-win disaster written all over it.

But three points:

1. Having Rice, Army and SMU all having to come to New Orleans really helps this from becoming an utter disaster. All three figure to be horrid- and horrid teams don't travel well. The Wave ought to able to get two of those- which means just one or two more wins keeps the season from utter disaster.

They can't beat LSU or Auburn no matter what. But 3-7 in the competitive games is bad- not a disaster.

2. It really doesn't take much to play .500 in our league. Just one or two nice surprises- either line being competitive for example, or upsetting Marhsall/sweeping the first three home games- and they could be 4-4 in league play.

3. And, you know, Ricard was at times a very, very, very effective quarterback in 2004. What if he gives them four 2004 UAB/Navy starts and five 2004 Army starts? Okay, he showed nothing in 2005- but you could hope if you wanted.

I still think three wins right now- win two of three of the Army, Rice, SMU collective- and steal another somewhere. But with any kind of improvement or great quarterback play- any!- they could sweep that "group of three losers" and steal two.

Monday, April 03, 2006

2006 Phillies- The Slog to 84!

Well, the Phillies followed a hopeful Grapefruit League season by promptly getting smacked around by the Cardinals today. Over early, you wonder if Leiber got the message that pitchers are ahead are hitters at this point. I know, I know, it is one game. And Jimmy Rollins got his hit.

While the Phillies are a staggering consensus to finish third in National League East- a forecast I solidly agree with- there is optimism. Bill Conlin has got them as the Wild Card. And the best Phillies’ blog out there- PhilliesNation- has them winning the division.

I don’t see it myself. Okay, this is not a bad Phillies team. They have won eighty or more games five (six?) years in a row- and I imagine they will again. But since Pat Gillick arrived, everything he does screams 2007. The Phillies simply are not going to try to force things to contend this year- like the Mets will. They’ll be content to be hopeful that their young players develop smartly, that some the inscrutable veterans either rally or have outstanding years, and reposition the organizational deck chairs some. Let Gillick make his own judgments on who is worth keeping, what is growing down on the farm, and where to allocate the dollars he saved this year.

The Phillies entered the off-season determined to clear eight figures from their bloated pay-roll of 2005- and not add to the bad contracts they have to eat. You can make a sensible argument for the departures of Thome, Padilla, Wagner, Urbina and Lofton- for example is $15 million plus for the back end of your bullpen really the best investment going?- but it isn’t like the Phillies went crazy sinking that money back into the on-field product or that some of those guys couldn't contribute.

The 2006 starting pitching isn’t all that bad. Leiber and Lidle are dependable- and no one would be surprised if Myers had a true breakout year. But expecting all three to be healthy, make thirty five starts and win fourteen or so? I don’t believe it. Moving Madison to the rotation is a mistake. I doubt he’ll be effective over a whole season- and what effectiveness he will have will fall dramatically after National League hitters get more than one look at him.

Worse, it really hurts the bullpen. Basically, the Phillies made this trade: their all-star closer (Wagner), a pretty solid set up guy (Urbina) and a very good, innings eating middle reliever (Madison) for Gordon, Rhodes and- at best- mediocre starting candidate Madison (in his new role). Maybe they had to do it- and it is totally defensible if “win now” isn’t your main goal. But it is hard to argue the bullpen is anywhere near as mediocre to decent-plus as it was in August and September last year.

So the pitching isn’t exciting. Hard to see two guys leaping out to win 34 games combined in the rotation- and I bet at least eight different guys get to call themselves starting pitchers for the Phillies this year. It isn’t encouraging.

Obviously, they should score. The first six bats in the line-up are well designed to play in Citizens- but they probably don’t get on base or situationally hit well enough to be consistent run producers on the road. Bell & Leiberthal are two increasingly shot players with horrendous contracts- a real black hole at the bottom of the order- that brings a real nice combination of “they can’t hit” coupled with “they play a lot”.

Again, the Phillies aren’t bad. They seem to try & care for Manuel. But they have some bad contract commitments to everyday players that realistically aren't going to get better. I don’t think anyone seriously can look at this roster’s problems at catcher and third base- combine it with multiple mysteries and holes in the pitching- and seriously get 94 wins. Even some of their "strengths" are sort of unproven. Utley and Howard are nice young players- but would you be honestly surprised to see their numbers fall a bit? Rollins had a spectacular finish- but he has months and months of stupid at-bats as well. Burrell defines enigma. Leiber could realistically make fifteen starts next year. It would be a miracle if Wolf does. And so forth

The division is fortunate for the Phillies- as the Marlins and Nationals are horrid. That’ll boost the total from last year- even if the Phillies aren’t as good on paper as 2004. The Braves and Mets have issues too. There is enough, if they get some pitching from unexpected sources and some of the conundrums shake out in their favor, to win 85+ games and hang around. Every year teams package health, some surprises and a little luck into a nice run. The Phils have enough pieces to be that team. And again, they aren't bad. But it would be more luck than rational expectation. I say 84 wins.