Thursday, August 31, 2006

2006 Tulane Football Preview

Sigh... Tulane football. How can we ever be succored?

Tulane will present one of the 20 worst on field products in I-A. Period. The defense is wretched, the offense loaded with “if’s”. Scelfo is not a great coach- he’s a competent, average to the core, program head. Accordingly, he has not shown a consistent ability to really, really elevate talent- move a team’s win tally by two, three tallies.

Succor? Well, you could begin by weaving a coherent story that the offense could be kinda okay. There are no secrets here. The wide outs figure to be a plus- for all of Scelfo’s faults you gotta admit he assembles a group at WR each year that contribute. The offensive line is pretty brand new- but this is the first group of line players that has been brought along the right way: red-shirts, a year of playing together behind a veteran group of starters. They might be a nice surprise. After two years of my dogging Forte supporters- Matt looked pretty good in the spring. I am not saying he’ll garner his first coach/media vote for third-team all conference (i.e. the fifth best RB in the League) but he might, just might, help this campaign.

But it boils down to Ricard. Sigh. Lester has made close to twenty I-A starts- and been great in three. Other than that, Ricard's been a scary, erratic turnover machine. This ball control offense via the pass requires consistent, accurate reads with lots of completions- and Ricard has, outside of his three great starts, shown neither. He’s certainly capable of a few really good starts when Tulane can create what I call the “Yellow Submarine”- i.e. he’s protected in a low stress environment. For myself, I don’t believe Lester will ever be a week-after-week plus. He’ll be spraying the ball, creating typical killer turnovers in both red zones, be all over the lot in a lot more games than not.

The Wave defense... many, many, many problems here. They couldn't stop the run with Cannon or pass. The schedule is harder- LSU & Auburn alone could score 100 points with 1300 yards of offense. Our League is offense friendly- teams go for cartoon-like numbers routinely. Add an offense that doesn't figure to be able to protect the defense consistently. Trouble.

Who has a worse linebacker situation than Tulane in C-USA? The defensive secondary couldn’t run or tackle last year; why should that be different? And every single year, we are told this is the year the defensive front steps up. They are like Ricard now- I won’t believe until I see it. Consequently, complete this sentence... they’ll keep Houston to less than 400 yards of offense because...?

Kicking game should be much better.

A real bad defense added to an offense that needs three things to go real right (QB, new o-line and Forte) to be decent... well, if Tulane were a BCS school, you could cheerfully pencil in two wins for this group.

But thank heavens for C-USA! It is a league filled with oh so many other teams with dire, unpleasant issues- an indifferent League, with so many busted outposts; you can never throw in the towel on a season.

Look at this week’s lines: Navy is -12 over East Carolina. Texas Tech is -26.5 over SMU. Oklahoma -21.5 over UAB. Florida -20 over USM. San Diego -2.5 over UTEP???

Tulane, in the bottom quartile of I-A programs, fits right in.

So while Tulane is probably a four TD underdog to, say, Texas Tech- the schedule inoculates Tulane against complete disaster. SMU, Rice & Army all come here. With this defense and quarterback, Tulane can’t play wontedly well enough to beat all three- but I cannot imagine losing two either. Someone in this League/schedule always disappoints: Marshall is already pretty bad, Mississippi State and Houston can get beat if they are asleep at the switch. Frankly, it is hard to be an underdog in nine games- and not get one by accident.

So that is where to put the Wave- get two of three from Rice, SMU and Army- steal one somewhere else- and get to three. A chance for four- but three is where I hang this hat.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back To Opine

First: Thursday will be Tulane football preview day on “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”- kicking off the traditional Prediction Thursday exercise.

Since I was down at Bristol, watching Matt Kenseth’s business-like deconstruction of NASCAR’s Nextel Cup Series, I didn’t see any Phillies’ games over the weekend. The funny thing is that the week was a perfect microcosm of the Phillies’ season: they played pretty well, yet still only finished the week with four wins in seven tries, but actually managed to gain ground on the Wild Card lead. While “officially” a game back, Philadelphia has evened things up in the loss column, which means they control their own destiny. Today, they need no “help” from other clubs; they are the pace.

The Phillies have no games left with clubs sporting winning records- although keep your eyes on those roaring Marlins- the constant darling of “Frank Helps You Think It All Out”, this blog’s pre-season & current Wild Card pick. It would behoove them to start off on the right foot with these three in DC. Washington is terrible right now (particularly away from RFK)- but, as a rule, pretty okay at home. Philadelphia has got ostensible "ace" Myers going tonight- so get this win and sort of inoculate themselves at least through the weekend against disaster.

Continuing our theme of news that is neither great nor bad, the Eagles’ trade clearly is a good one: helpful, squarely in the potentially something for nothing category. Donte' Stallworth is clearly the best receiver on paper on the Eagles’ current roster. Well before last season, Mark Simoneau had lost that step that made him a pretty decent linebacker in space. Since he never was a “tackler” and consequently gave you little against the run, he nows brings little except maybe some experienced depth.

Frankly, outside of Trotter, the Eagles were a mess at linebacker last season- and Simoneau still couldn’t get on the field. The pick is a first day one- and I hate sending those away almost as much as the Redskins’ love trading them for nominal talents- but you get a proven NFL player who doesn’t even cost $2 million against the cap with zero long term obligations. Let's put it this way: I know for a fact that Simoneau playing regularly is not a plus; perhaps Stallworth might be.

But don't kid yourselves. This trade was in no way made from a position of strength. The Eagles’ wide out situation is horrid. This trade only gets them to maybe “okay-minus”- and then only if everyone stays healthy and Stallworth can keep that fink attitude to a minimum.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


With yet another victory over the Chicago Cubs last night- moving the Phillies within one in the loss column- one question becomes increasingly relevant: which one of the Phillies' "Aces" would you pitch in a Game 1: Leiber, Moyer, Wolf, Hamels or Meyers? Gillick you magnificient genius! Quick: if you had to choose, right now, which rotation to take into the play-offs if they started tomorrow- would you take either the Mets or the Phillies? Curious, no?

Tulane fans everywhere were disheartened by this unintelligible string on the yogwf.

To me, the best part is the hurt feelings. I am an admirer of the yogwf community- but that string is frankly inane. People, you represent Tulane- this quality “argument” is one I would associate with grads from LSU-Eunice. Now, not everyone agrees with me:

Frank… or is it Ricky Bobby? Up yours, you conceded know nothing? -noschmo
Okay, okay, it is “conceited”- but readers are to be indulged.

Speaking of Ricky Bobby- this blog & I are on hiatus for the weekend- as I am off to Bristol Motor Speedway for my annual pilgrimage to the world’s fastest half-mile. Go Tony Stewart! Move those other cars right out of the way!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Brave Words, True Words

Rich Hofmann begins to get the fever:

The Phillies' clubhouse has become a bus station, all about departures and arrivals and destinations unknown. There is no choice, either. The centerfielder is gone with a broken ankle. The closer is disabled with a bum shoulder. The club travel agent works overtime. The turnstile at the door spins, furiously. And glad to see you there, Joe Thurston.

There could be more coming, too. Because the Phillies have made a decision here. The everlasting tension between present and future has tipped - and the players on the field have done the tipping. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels - they have made this so, and they have done it by their actions. They have, despite everything, forced their bosses to believe in now.
Screw catching the Reds. I want to catch the Cardinals! "Baseball Heaven"- right Scott Rolen, you fink?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hip To Be Square At 62

-->Note: BlogPoll stuff at the end.

Well, it is official. As of right now- and maybe only until 10PM tonight- the Phillies legitimately don’t stink. Squaring there mark at 62 wins standing against 62 losses, the Phillies sure feel a lot more legit as a team chasing the play-offs this morning.

Last night, that was a rough hour or so, no? Jon Leiber suddenly spitting the bit, Arthur Rhodes working hard to blow the save, and centerfielder Aaron Rowand out for the season. Then the cruelest blow of all: the Cincinnati Reds picking themselves up off the deck, down three in the home eighth, and stealing a game from Houston. Stupid Astros.

With just 37-38 games to play, the math is going to start to get cruel for the Phillies in a hurry. Even if the Reds hang up a real mediocre 19-18 mark, the Phillies need 23-15 just to tie. Ouch. Can’t see that happening, right? Hard to imagine the Phillies winning this without help from the Reds frankly.

Certainly, the loss of Rowand is not helpful- but I have been on record for a long time that he is the most overrated position player the Phillies have (you can see my insightful arguments for this here- and you can add the fact he can’t stay healthy to my indictment). Frankly, the acquisition of Moyer probably helps more than the loss of Rowand hurts- so optimistically it is sort of a trade. As Manuel sagely says, "I like lefties, especially when they know how to pitch. They can take the sting out of a hitter's bat." I don’t know what that means myself, but increasingly when Charlie is happy- then I’m happy.

Regardless, the Phillies can survive with Burrell, Victorino and Delucci out there for five weeks (longer would be a problem though). And since the Phillies insist on carrying thirteen pitchers, it isn’t like the bench can get more depleted either. You can’t complain about not having multiple quality moves available when the Phillies purposely have constructed a roster that means they have practically no position player moves anyway. Plus, the bullpen honestly might need eight options at this point.


I promised to mention the BlogPoll today. As Mr. Bold, I posted a defense of my first poll here- and Mr. Numb Existence at View From Rocky Top posts his rejoinder here. Our Louisville peer is unhappy at being excluded from my Top 25- but in his heart of hearts he must know the Cardinals both betrayed our League and probably cannot beat, say, Alabama in a big spot.

Some other comments on my ballot here and here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Yo Glavine, My Fingers Are Numb Too

I am going to write about the Phillies today- with an awareness that a lot- and I mean a lot- of BlogPoll traffic is passing through here right now. I’ll get to that tomorrow.

When we last left the Phillies here on Thursday, they had pounded the Mets three straight. Unfortunately, Charlie ran out of major league rotation options at that point- and the club finished up the week splitting the final four outings. At home, the Phillies absolutely have to win series against teams like the Nationals- so it was heartening to see them come back and win the needed pair after dropping the first one. So, a five win week- not too bad. Consequently, the Phillies not only picked up 1.5 games on the Reds- slogging as expected to a typical National League style three up-three down week- but also stand tied for second in the Wild Card race. They aren’t chasing seven teams any more; those teams are largely chasing them.

There is really nothing to complain about concerning Jamie Moyer. Now, I still cannot believe in their heart of hearts Gillick thinks this season is, well, ultimately about this season. But acquiring Jamie Moyer- and his not insignificant salary- for two low minors’ prospects is a trade certainly about this year- a true deviation from Gillick’s mandate of, say, just three weeks ago.

That normally is a real road to ruin- but I suggest these three tests for late season acquisitions outside real contending teams:

1. Did you give up anything approaching major league talent? I can’t imagine two Class A prospects (one an undrafted free agent) being can’t miss guys. Bill Conlin suggests one of the two guys had a pretty good season in A-ball- but I imagine Gillick could have refrained from including him if he wanted to- see point 2.

2. Does it cost you payroll now that could be better spent in 2006, etc.? Moyer is around a $6 million pitcher- but a lot of the season is over and apparently Seattle is picking up some of the remainder. But this sort of spending isn’t going to cost the Phillies a key agent or retention of a core young player. And had Gillick wanted to retain his prospects, I bet he could have freed Seattle entirely from their obligation to pay Moyer in return. So either point one or point two is sort of a free pass for Gillick almost by definition.

3. Does it take major league playing time away from young players who could use seasoning for the immediate future? Put your hand up if you need to see more of Scott Mathieson this season? Or if you think being cuffed around in another three big league starts will help his development? Anyone? Anyone? Frankly, I’ve seen enough of Gavin Floyd also. Look, if the Phillies fall out of this in the next few weeks- the September call up option is available for both those guys to get a few starts. And if they don’t… then yes, I’d rather see Jamie Moyer.

Plus, Moyers clearly makes the Phillies better- honestly, maybe three, four games better. Not that Moyers is such a huge plus- but the guy he’s placing was such an unreserved, unmitigated minus. Screw the fifth pitcher, Moyers might arguably start a Game 2 today if the Phillies had their druthers.

Frankly, a lot of the Phillies’ improvement has be the subtraction of utter minuses. Less Bell & Leiberthal is good, good, good! Less Gavin Floyd too.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

BlogPoll is Out!

Let's take a small break from the relentless pounding the Phillies are administering to the Mets- and announce the first BlogPoll is out. Click this link to see it.

A careful perusal of the results will indicate "Frank Helps You Think It All Out" was named Mr. Bold for my no doubt astute forecast of the upcoming season. My corollary, Mr. Numb Existence at "View From Rocky Top", has gently remonstrated me- but encouraged me to formulate some sort of ersatz acceptance speech.

To wit- my offical sanctioning from the BlogPoll reads thusly:
Mr. Bold is Tulane blogger Frank McGrath, apparently the last person on earth with faith in the state of Florida. He ranks the Florida-Miami-FSU triumvirate extremely high (3-6-7, respectively), but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I wonder if the placements of LSU (20) and Michigan (24) have something to do with McGrath’s split Tulane (NR)-Notre Dame (1) fandom. Other sources of BOLD: Tennessee and Georgia in the top ten; Penn State and VaTech 12 and 13; Louisville unranked. Let’s try to keep the writhing hatred somewhat better cloaked, kids!
I must admit I am discomfited at the idea of wearing the “Mr. Bold” moniker. But for the life of me, I look at my ballot and do not find it odd or outlandish. For instance, there is no vote for a “Rice” or a “Temple”. Yes, I rank the Florida triumvirate highly- but USA today’s got the same three at 8, 10, and 11. If that is bold, then I suppose I’m shamelessly audacious.

And yes, I have a bias toward the SEC. Absolutely I do. Now that might be because as a Tulane fan, I’ve been beat about the head by these factories since the day I enrolled. But very few BCS conference teams could navigate a full SEC slate without at least two, probably three losses- and the ones I think could do two losses or better are the dozen or so that join my Top 25. USC is one of those teams. Notre Dame is another. Louisville is categorically not one. Have a look at, say Vandy’s 2006 slate. Frankly, I am not sure Louisville can win at Oxford regularly- let alone Rocky Top.

So, I have West Virginia- who I think is the best team in the Big East- at 16. Accordingly, I don't the think Louisville is better than WV- which candidly isn't all that outrageous. And I don't believe, yes, that the Cardinals are better than the teams at the bottom of my poll. I doubt they can beat a .500+ Big Ten team, or a depleted Oklahoma, or middling SEC team (LSU, Alabama). Hell, didn’t the Green Wave beat them this last decade? A powerful strike against my confidence in any program.

Or how about Cal? I left them out too. I could have swung and missed on this one- but again, I don't think a second tier Pac-10 team (they are not an elite team like USC) is better than a solid SEC outfit- particularly in their own building. See LSU going on the road on short notice to beat ASU post-Katrina. So I don't think Cal will even get past the Vols. Add a USC loss- another choke job along the Pac-10 schedule that they always seem to furnish- and that is three losses- two against teams that figure to be at the bottom of the Top 25 or "other receiving votes" (the Vols and some Pac 10 also-ran). So yeah, I tend to think Cal's "respect" is an ongoing function of a sub-par west in 2005.

The BlogPoll asks us to eschew the ratings system exhibited by most polls- which is to sort of predict who will have zero losses, one loss, two losses, etc. at the end of the year- and then group teams by that “loss category” in some sort of order. So I obeyed. The teams I have ranked from 5-25 are teams that I think either would have a solid winning record in the SEC or SEC teams I think will definitely have a winning record. It is a system.

Two exceptions perhaps. As one of a few mid-major voters in this poll- which like everything college football is skewed toward the heavies- I probably threw a little too much love the mid-major’s way- including both TCU and UTEP. Fair.

And yes, I will be damned if I give LSU a free pass to the Top 10. But at least I included them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Now Pitching... Randy Lerch

Yay Phillies! “Meet the Mets! Beat the Mets!”, right? And they get another chance today to pound a future Hall of Famer!

Boy, the Mets have been in total sleepwalk mode this series, right? It is almost like they just don’t care: come out, fall behind early, Phillies’ pitcher gets a big hit, general-malaise from the fourth inning on, now let's go get a beer. I don’t know who told the Mets that Lastings Milledge is a major league ready corner outfielder- 'cause he looks like Bobby Abreu with a few belts in him out there in right. He’s horrid. And I did not like the way El Duque was left out there to be humiliated- there is taking one for the team and there is being embarrassed. 105 pitches over four frames and eleven earned runs (boy, the official scorer is not helping the Mets’ pitching in this series one bit) is the latter.

So the Phillies have run there mark to fourteen up, seven down since this surge began- and made my adamant declaration of “no way they can get to 86 wins” look downright coureagous. I was kicking around with my brother last night just what fueled this small renaissance- as I don’t put much stock in the “Bobby Abreu is a loser” theory. But I believe it is hard to get around two facts- that you don’t hurt any team by subtracting David Bell- and replacing Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd in the rotation with anybody (say Randy Lerch and Tommy Underwood) is a net plus.

But that is emblematic of how much more there is to do here. 14-7 is a pretty darn solid mark- and it has only brought them back to 2.5 games. And a 14-7 mark would be required again to close a three-ish game gap on a Reds' team that goes a perectly reasonable 11-10 in the same span.

It is so very hard to make up ground- which is why the Phillies absolutely cannot spit the bit in these next two games against New York. They picked up a game and a half; they cannot just give that game, or two games, right back. They gotta get one. Got to. This team is going to really struggle to get more than a few games north of .500- and they can not fritter away a good start against these Mets by playing normal Phillies baseball the next two days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Do You Know Where Paul LoDuca is?

Well, it isn’t every night you get to kick the holy crap out of a first ballot, no doubt about it, Hall of Famer. So you could relish it a little this morning. And while this stretch of seven games with the Mets over the next week and a half might be the last “brutal hard” portion of the schedule- it is, well, brutal hard- so certainly, getting off to a good start against Pedro is gratifying. Don’t want to see the Phillies turn this four-game deficit into a six-game deficit coming out of August.

Obviously, they MUST now split this four-game set with the Mets at a minimum. Philadelphia has now been given a third chance in their last three series this month against decent (Cincinnati) or quality opposition (New York)- due to winning the opening game- to build some momentum against teams they really could afford to build some momentum against. The Phillies have to come out of this 2-2- and rely on the mediocrity of Houston, San Diego, et al. to allow them to hang on until the schedule softens noticeably in September.

Get to September just two-three games back is my goal- and take my chances with Florida, Chicago, and Washington. No more Mets- just three early games with the Braves.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Are the Phillies Barely Just OK?

The Phillies: where again the most promising news around the team is that Clinton Portis is banged up already.

That makes two weekends in a row where the Phillies begin a series promisingly against a winning team- first the Mets, this weekend the Reds- and promptly managed to squander any sort of resulting momentum by dropping the final two games- and thus both series. Consequently, the Phillies- who drew within one game in the loss column for the Wild Card Saturday morning- now find themselves back to four games out, chasing four clubs.

Forget the Wild Card- even a semi-decent club fighting its way to .500 has to be a little disgusted. The Mets are emphatically better than the Phillies- so last week can be excused, understood. But the Phillies, if they are even just barely okay enough to make a run at this Wild Card, just can’t drop those two games to the Reds. The Reds aren’t that good- and ran a ton of pitching slop out to the hill (it was a mystery why the Reds would acquire Ryan Ray Franklin- but after this weekend, you can see why they thought the righty could possibly help). Myers got one of the starts. They scored enough runs. The big core hitters hit well.

So maybe then the Phillies aren’t okay enough. Well, I guess we knew that already. Catagorically, if 85 wins is what is going to take to do this- then the Phillies are simply out. They cannot get that number. The bullpen is increasingly shot- movingly rapidly to scary from erratic- and you can’t be too comfortable with Gordon being a closer for a full season next year, right Pat? Similarly, the “ace” Myers looks to be making a comparable switch- but rather “from” erratic, he’s moving “to” erratic. And of course, with the insistence that Leiberthal be run out there almost everyday, means the Phillies are guaranteed sub-par offense production from the one, five, six, seven and eight hole in their everyday line-up. Seven and Eight are particularly horrible. We all knew Leiberthal stinks- but what in heaven convinced the Phillies Nunoz was an effective roll-player.

So the Phillies don’t seem to have more than this win one, lose one (or win one, lose two against good teams) in them. Probably gets them to 79-80 wins, maybe a few more if they get hot or the fact that these seven games versus New York complete the season slate versus winning teams. But the real key to Wild Card mania is continued mediocrity in the National League- keeping the bar at 82-83 wins- and thus the Phillies in it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

BlogPoll is Back

The BlogPoll is back!

Yes, easily the most prestigious blog-oriented college football poll in the world is back (thanks to the guys at mgoblog for organizing as always). As only one of a handful of reps representing a mid-major/Conference USA, I take great pride in voting frequently and prouldly for the Northern Illinios, the UTEPs, the Tulsas of the world.

All your fave blogs are back: Cheap Seats (a smart, classy blog with the sense to adop the Green Wave post-Katrina last year), RammerJammerYellowHammer, Sexy Results!, and of course the shocking Boi From Troy. Watch Orange44 suffer publicly through yet another season of crushing disappointment.

You can laugh- but at least the voters in this one can honestly say they watch more than a handful of games a week- and are not having their assistants poll in their stead. Anyway, my opening salvo- can't stop the Irish!


1Notre Dame 25
2Ohio State 24
3Florida 23
4Auburn 22
5Southern Cal 21
6Miami (Florida) 20
7Florida State 19
8Georgia 18
9Tennessee 17
10Nebraska 16
11Texas 15
12Penn State 14
13Virginia Tech 13
14Clemson 12
15Iowa 11
16West Virginia 10
17Tulsa 9
18Alabama 8
19TCU 7
20Louisiana State 6
21Oregon 5
22UTEP 4
23Oklahoma 3
24UCLA 2
25Michigan 1

Dropped Out:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Phillies: A sub-.500 Team Chasing a Sort of Relevance

One could be encouraged by young Hamel’s start last night. It was just the sort of hopeful outing a team focused on next year likes to see from a young starting pitcher: a brave effort, facing pressure to keep the other team down as his team scuffled with the bats, on the road. Not too bad, Cole.

But for this year’s team, as opposed to next year, the result was not so good. Yo! Phillies! Uhm guys? You know, well… a team chasing three teams for the wild card can’t waste starts like that. Heck, a sub-.500 team chasing a sort of relevance can’t waste starts like that. The Phillies get under way here shortly- and win or lose, it is another pretty lost week competiton-wise. After taking the opening game, the Phillies managed to lose the weekend series to the Mets- so no matter what happens today, it is another .500 week (or worse) for a .500 team (or worse). The little sunshine and verve they injected into their season last week sort waned immediately upon hitting on the road.

And once again, Jimmy Rollins proves why batting him lead-off pretty much goes a long way to sentencing a ball club to win one, lose one approach. The Braves' pitcher was Hudson last night. While he did pitch very well, early in the game he loses focus to start an inning and walks the pitcher. Immediately, Jimmy Rollins comes up and strikes out?

I mean, Rollins cannot strike out there- particularly with Hudson going along so well. Jimmy has to have an at-bat there that gives the Phillies a chance to scratch out a cheap run- try to manufacture some sort of crude offense to get them to three runs and a chance against a guy going good on the hill that night. Makes that eventual 3-1 game into 3-2, maybe 3-3 thru a semi-inteligent approach to hitting.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sleeping Like a Lamb Under the Guise of #5

Well, I imagine the entire Delaware Valley slept soundly last night. Denizens of Washington, New York and Dallas- if they were honest- had to be a little non-plussed. And all it took was a twenty minute period between 8:08 and 8:28 last night. The Philadelphia Eagles' first team roared in to Canton, punched the Oakland Raiders in the mouth took their lunch money and promptly retired to the bench for the rest of the evening.

You can’t read much into the first pre-season game- particularly when Oakland looked like Spurrier's old Redskin teams: pliant and pitiable. But after watching the Eagles suffer last season, it was more than a little refreshing to see Westbrook and McNabb look healthy, the old sharpness and zero mental errors that have mostly characterized the Reid regime, the defensive line look literally one thousand percent better, both kickers be weapons- basically, just feel good about the guys in green for a change. It has been awhile since things have been that easy.

More than most teams, the Eagles need a little confidence, a little swagger, this pre-season. On defense, two very efficient three-and-outs, an interception, coupled with a quick score with a dazzling Westbrook… I dunno- again, the Eagles need a little success this August. The only things I wanted to see last night was McNabb look healthy and the Eagles look poised. I doubt the team has the talent of 2004- but there is no reason it can't play the game of football as well as 2004. So yes, I was heartened to see them play well.

And I am not going to say more than that about that.

However, that outing took a little sting away from the Phillies very “Phillies-like weekend”. One thing this season has categorically proved is that the Mets are just way better than Philadelphia right now- and New York sort of "malaised" their way to a series win. It was a little unsatisfactory- as the Phillies won Friday night- and consequently were just one win away from a real nice weekend to continue their real nice few series. But they handed one affair away, up 3-0 against Tom Glavine from the get-go- and then got routed last night.

Fortunately, Cincinnati spit the bit late against the Braves- so the Phillies remain in the thick of things. The Phillies go visit those same Braves tonight- be nice to see Myers get this series off to a good start. This is the sort of game the Phillies need to start getting regularly- as mediocre-plus teams ought to get games with their number one guy going, even on the road, against sub.-500 teams, right?

Friday, August 04, 2006

What is Up With the Phillies?

Well, here we are, right? Left for dead by their own management, what is the left of the Phillies have shown a little pride, a little fire. Perhaps inadvertently, Gillick challenged their self-respect- and to their credit, the Phillies responded with week of very good baseball: scoring a ton of runs for the most part, sweeping the recently hapless Cardinals. And as the Cincinnati Reds got a little case of the swoons too- the Phillies are two games back in the loss column.

I am not sure the Phillies are good- I tend to think this streak is mostly a result of the two best players on the team- Utley & Howard- being on fire at the same time. You could put those two on the Pirates- and they probably would have swept St. Louis this week.

But it doesn’t hurt that the Phillies have had a little roster serendipity go their way for once. Again, Chase Utley and Howard are on fire. Moving Utley into Abreu’s spot in the line-up puts the team’s best three-hole hitter actually in the three-hole. David Dellucci has brought a good left-handed bat into Utley’s old spot. So the Abreu trade hasn’t hurt them yet- at least against against RHP.

They also got a semi-decent turn through the rotation- ultimately replacing Lidle with another five or so ERA guy probably doesn’t hurt much. Wolf and Mathieson gutted their way to decent outings- and the nights the bullpen imploded were fortunately confined to nights the team was scoring a dozen or so runs.

Can it last? Well, increasingly, it looks like it might only take 84-85 wins to get this Wild Card thing done- so if you are a .500 club (which the Phillies categorically are) playing well for two weeks straight (which the Phillies are threatening to do), why not?

The immediately upcoming plethora of games against the Mets (ten!) and three with Reds by the 27th alone will be a big determinant. But six-seven wins in those thirteen games- and a good showing against the weaker schedule elements (ten against Nats and Cubs plus three with Atlanta)- means they would enter September with a chance. A "not crazy projection pre-supposing Utley and Howard having great months", say a 15-11 month from here, means the Phillies would be the pace or a game or so off it entering the stretch.

Normally I would be doubtful- the starting pitching is still officially a mess, the bullpen is increasingly balky and the bottom of the order is a black hole of despair. But the Phillies feel, again, serendipitous for the first time since Wagner gave up those home runs against Houston last year. And, for the first time in a long time, they are playing the actual game of baseball well and with enthusiasm- like they want to be at the park. Maybe Leiber will see the kids and emerge from his emotion coma and pitch like a proud pro for a month- would that be too hard to ask big guy?

So I have a feeling about the Phillies, almost despite myself, that isn’t altogether terrible. Not like I think they’re good- but like they might be okay for a few weeks if they keep hitting- and that ought to be enough to hang around in this chase for second with play-off privileges.