Ed Snider & Other Well-Meaning Owners.

Hard To Believe Augusta Didn't Go With the Orange Jacket.

Hard To Believe Augusta Didn’t Go With the Orange Jacket.

The Flyers are coming off one of the symbolic weeks in the history of their franchise.  It was like the last 25 years got wadded into a neat little ball and soft-tossed in the direction of the general public.  The Flyers bought out two free agent contracts (one a misguided attempt to land an elusive goalie), signed a player to an 8-year extension AND locked up a 33-year old free agent who last played a full season four years ago.  These are the Flyers I’ve come to know, and even more than that, this is Ed Snider.  The guy owns a team in one way.  He has no change of pace.  

Ed Snider is committed.  Perhaps to a fault.  He’s committed to a style of play.  He’s committed to members of the “Flyers family,” and he’s committed to spending an ungodly amount of money in pursuit of a third Stanley Cup.  The only problem is, Snider hasn’t hit upon the winning formula in almost four decades.  So, is Snider and his “win at all costs,” approach really a detriment to his franchise at this point?  

I’m no historian of the Flyers franchise, but from my casual observations, it seems to me that the Flyers were a pretty model franchise through the Eric Lindros era.   They lost some Cup Finals to dynasties in the eighties and rebounded from the worst stretch in team history with Snider’s signature act of aggression–the Lindros trade.  That Lindros cost them Forsberg, and eventually left town concussed and on bad terms is just hindsight.  You can’t fault the team for going after the player who was supposed to change the sport and likely could have brought a Cup if he remained healthy.  

Instead of harping on the Cups Forsberg won in Colorado, I think it’s better to look at what the failure of Lindros and that era in Philly has done to Ed Snider.  In my mind, it’s taken away any shred of patience he may have had.  Instead of cementing his legacy with Lindros led Cup teams, Snider now must stare in the face of “the drought” and his own mortality as Flyers Chairman.  I think after Lindros, Snider suddenly has heard the clock ticking.  That’s created a few phenomena in my opinion.  

First, the revolving head coach door.  I guess there isn’t much unusual about 5 coaches in 13 years for a professional team, but it’s a lot of movement for a team that considers itself an elite franchise.  That’s five new directions the team has taken, and you get a sense that Peter Laviolette is running out of time to make his system work.  

Second, there is no patience with young players.  You can go back as far as you’d like.  The Flyers have always been liberal with trading draft picks, and when they do take a player with a high pick he usually doesn’t stick with the organization for very long.  A sampling of names: Pitkanen, Umberger, Upshall, Lupul, Parent, Carter, Richards, Bobrovsky and van Riemsdyk.  That’s five years.  The team has certainly traded away plenty of picks and prospects that amounted to nothing, but it’s hard not to look back at some of these moves and call them rash.  One year Carter & Richards are signing almost lifetime contracts and making the Stanley Cup Final and then–they’re gone.  Sergei Bobrovsky is discarded for a high-priced free agent and he wins a Vezina in Columbus.  Could Carter/Richards and Bobrovsky helped bring a Cup to Philadelphia?  We’ll never know.  

Lastly, too much money and years are going to veteran players.  The Flyers always hunt the name.  You could dedicate a wing of the Hall of Fame to players the Flyers acquired well past their prime.  Hatcher, Pronger, Forsberg (part 2), Jagr, Roenick, Amonte, Briere, Oates, Timmonen, Rathje, Smith, etc, etc.  This month you can add Vincent Lecavalier and Mark Streit to the list.  When you go to the Flyers’ website, a huge ad pops up touting Lecavalier, highlighting his 300+ goals.  The question is, how many goals does the former #1 pick have left in the tank to score for the Flyers?  

I should take a moment to acknowledge that it is difficult to build a championship team.  It is easier to talk about finding a franchise goalie than actually acquiring one.  I should also say that there were moments along this ride where I was on board.  I was comfortable trading Richards.  I liked the sound of getting Chris Pronger, but after a certain period of time, you start to lose that blind faith in the moves your team is making.  Is the team going to stick with the likes of Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds and Schenn or will they just become future trade fodder?

With the Flyers, it’s hard to know who is calling the shots. Is it GM Paul Holmgren?  How much input does Snider have? Does Holmgren’s position as part of the “Flyers Family,” impact his relationship with Snider?  Since 1994 Snider has had one of his guys in charge.  Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren.  Two Flyers players, two strong organizational guys have been the only GMs in the last 20 years.  There have been about 10 coaches in that time.  Another equation that doesn’t quite add up.  

There is no getting rid of Ed Snider as Flyers Chairman, and there are far worse owners the team could have.  You can have cheap owners, detached owners, Jeffrey Loria, etc.  So, perhaps we shouldn’t bemoan Snider, just as Cowboys fans shouldn’t bemoan Jerry Jones (18 years and counting since last Super Bowl), but we should acknowledge that the well-meaning owner could be the one driving with two feet–pressing ahead and holding the team back at the same time.  For years, I’ve believed that this was going to be the season the Flyers got it right, but judging the past week, Snider is still calling the shots and the team is still going to be without a Cup.  

The Nightmare, Utley and Pinning Down Tiger.

Go Skate Off a Cliff.

The great thing about the Flyers is that a month after they are eliminated things are still happening that make the season a little more painful.  Speaking with two decades of scars, the best advice for any NHL season, after the Flyers’ inevitable decline, is to ignore the action.  Take any steps possible.  Nothing good can happen from watching or paying attention to hockey.  You see things you don’t want to see.  The Hurricanes winning a Stanley Cup, for example.  The Devils cobbling together a run and picking up ANOTHER cup.  The f*cking Red Wings.  Crosby’s face.  The list goes on and on.

Of course, I don’t follow my own advice.  I haven’t watched a single second of hockey since the Flyers took the pipe, but I know.  Oh, I know.  The semi-finals were a cruel joke.  When Phoenix is your shot, a team that by all rights should be bankrupt and moved back to Canada–you’ve got a problem.  The other options?  The Devils/Rangers and Kings.  So, a New York team, the Devils with a chance to win their 4th (fourth!) Stanley Cup in the Brodeur years, and the Kings featuring the former terrors of Sea Isle, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.  Prioritizing my hatred there is difficult.

At first I was pleased the Devils beat the Rangers, because really–who knows a Devils fan?  But as the boys from Newark show themselves to be out-manned against the Kings and Carter and Richards get closer to a Cup, I realize this is the worst case scenario.  It is…my nightmare.  Of course I can claim that Richards and Carter have been carried by LA’s other stars, but that would be a little hollow and beside the point, especially when Carter tallied the OT-winner in game 2.   Anyone who ever watched Carter play in Philly knows he doesn’t deserve to score such a goal.  That’s biased and bitter, but also quite true.  Add in the fact that the Kings are an eight seed, the ultimate stars-aligning team, and it makes you feel even worse.  Not only do the Flyers have to overcome their own issues every year, but they have to sidestep these hot teams that always pop-up in hockey’s playoff free for all.

***

The Phillies can’t get out of their own way.  That’s my official assessment.  The question–is that because they simply aren’t good enough, or are we still seeing the manifestation of this “pressing” that Charlie Manuel and several players are talking about?  I saw yesterday that the Phillies started a cleanup hitter (Hector Luna) who had less home runs than the opposing pitcher.  An anomaly, but an appropriate one.  Tidbits like that point to the Phillies’ lack of talent.  The Lunas, Fontenots, Mayberrrys, Galvii, Wiggys–not exactly the foundation of championship teams.  But on the other side of the coin, you have the Phils’ relative success (just 3.5 back in the division) in spite of several fundamental breakdowns.  Poor relief pitching, poor situational hitting–this could easily erase the Phillies’ deficit in the standings even with all the cash they have on the DL.

I don’t want to say that the Phillies don’t have enough talent, because that feels like a damning statement for June.  It’s too pessimistic, but it’s becoming apparent that the current Phillies need a boost.  The guys getting sent out there every day need a breather.  The players being asked to carry the team, aside from Carlos Ruiz, seem ill-equipped to do so. That’s why Chase Utley reporting to Clearwater to move along his rehab process is such big news.  I think we saw last year that Utley’s presence in the lineup, regardless of his performance, is valuable to the Phillies.

The Phillies were in far better shape when Chase returned last year (30-19) than they are likely to be when he comes back this season, but there’s also likely to be less expectation of what Chase can do for the team’s production.  I wrote a post before Utley came back last year that implied he’d be expected to fix the entire offense.  I think this year, when he comes back, it’ll be important that he simply leads, or sets the pace.  In some ways, this Phillies team resembles a horse race without a front-runner.  They can’t find their stride, because no one is leading the way.  If Utley can do that, even if he’s only hitting .260, you might finally see a more consistent Phillies team.  But, we still need patience, because even with Chase heading to Florida, there’s no indication he’ll be back any time soon.

***

Tiger Woods won another golf tournament yesterday.  His 73rd victory was highlighted by a ridiculous flop-shot birdie on the 16th hole.  It was a blistering, late charge that was rare for Woods even when he was in top form.  Of course, that’s partially because he was always well out in front, but Tiger’s back-nine comebacks on Sunday aren’t as numerous as you might think.  The win, his 2nd of the year, and the manner in which he secured the victory has sent everyone back to square one trying figure out where Tiger is on his comeback.  The Tiger prediction business has been a tough racket, and it feels like in judging his career most are looking to consult a chart or table that doesn’t exist.

By winning his 2nd event of the year in only nine starts, Woods has already had what would be a great year for most any other golfer on the planet.  Two wins by June should mean that Tiger is back, but it was not that long ago at the Masters where everyone had written him off again.  What I gather from Tiger’s last six months is that he’s become impossible to evaluate.  He set the bar too high, but more than that, he’s under too much scrutiny.  Rory McIlroy has put together a 3-event stretch that’s putrid enough to rival Tiger’s lowest lows, but no one has paid much attention.

Tiger Woods is his own sport.  There’s golf and then there’s Tiger.  That’s why you can’t compare other golfers to Tiger, that’s why the coverage for other golfers will never be what it is for Tiger–it’s like comparing the NHL to the NFL.  Why don’t people talk as much about the Stars as they do the Cowboys?  That’s an obvious answer, and if we start looking at Tiger as a separate entity, the analysis of his game starts to make more sense.  Why doesn’t two wins in nine starts feel right?  Because it’s Tiger.  Why do we feel we need to overreact to every round?  Because it’s Tiger.

Woods has always competed against himself for the most part.  So in his comeback, it isn’t enough for him to return to the top-10 in the world, to win the occasional event, to have good and bad weeks.  Everyone is still waiting for the dominant Tiger to return.  It’s all we recognize.  About all you can say is Tiger is a lot closer to his old form than he was a year ago, but he’s a long way from the Tiger who won the first 71 event of his career.  The next step in his return to form is his performance in Majors.  Next week Tiger will head to the US Open at Olympic as one of the favorites.  How he’ll perform is still up in the air.

***

Ok, we’re about 52 hrs away from the picture bag and I’ve yet to receive a submission.  It’s up to you all to keep that going.

The Inevitable Pride Game and Other Things.

There Will Be No Tone-Setting Checks From GIroux in Game Five.

Are the Flyers playing for pride tonight or do they actually have a chance in this series?  Down 3-1 to New Jersey, and down Claude Giroux, the team could certainly be in better position.  I hope that this isn’t a pride game, because the Flyers have a poor history in such affairs in my revisionist memory.  I remember completed sweeps, embarrassing losses, and getting ousted on home ice.  When all that’s left is pride you’re usually woefully outgunned.  It doesn’t seem like that should be the case with this series.  The Flyers transformed themselves from fringe contenders to a legitimate threat with their throttling of Pittsburgh.  The series with New Jersey has exposed many flaws–likely too many to overcome.  So, if you sit down to watch the action tonight and the Flyers are getting beaten to every puck, if the Devils get out to an early lead–I’m afraid you’re watching a pride game.  Prepare for the worst.  

***

Is Charlie Manuel killing the Phillies?  I’ve done my share of lamenting on Manuel.  If you’d like a different voice, here’s a post and long line of comments complaining about Cholly over at Beerleaguer.  It’s hard to rank this season’s, or even this last week’s most troubling losses.  The bullpen seems to be the newest cause for concern, but last night every button Charlie pushed was wrong.  It might be superficial to blame Charlie, but his decisions are the ones in front of us, and he always gives plenty of room for his doubters.  Much of this season has been about the Phillies’ small margin for error, and you wonder if Charlie is the right guy to be pulling the strings in these tough situations.  Last night Charlie fell back in love with the bunt.  

In the 7th and 8th innings the Phillies got their first two men on base.  In the 7th he took the bunt off for John Mayberry and the struggling OF failed to move the runners.  The inning later ended on a Hunter Pence double play which was supplemented by Shane Victorino’s weekly abortion on the bases.  In the 8th, after a Wigginton leadoff single, Manuel opted to bunt the team’s most productive hitter, Carlos Ruiz.  When the Mets botched the bunt the Phillies were 1st and 2nd with no outs for the 2nd consecutive inning.  At this point Manuel bunts Placido Polanco, one of the team’s hotter hitters who had blasted a double earlier in the night.  

Polanco got the bunt down, but behind him were Freddy Galvis and the pitcher’s spot.  OK, you thought, he’s going to pinch-hit for Galvis.  Nope.  I guess this is a spot where Manuel wanted to show faith in Galvis (but couldn’t you argue he didn’t show faith in Polanco to not GIDP).  He has a couple of big hits this season, but he’s also hitting under .200.  He hits very few fly balls deep enough to score Ty Wigginton.  Galvis tapped back to the mound.  After that came the signature Charlie move where he wastes his better bat off the bench.  He sends Nix out only to see the pitcher get changed and then he’s left with call-up Eric Kratz as his last chance to get the big hit.  Kratz struck out.  For whatever reason, Manuel always seems to be one step behind the other managers.  He bites at the easy jump in a checkers game, only to set up his opponent to go crisscrossing over a half-dozen checkers.  

It’s certainly not all Manuel’s fault.  Hunter Pence could have hit a sac-fly.  So could have Galvis.  And Papelbon got hit hard in the 9th anyway, but maybe Papelbon doesn’t look as rusty if he’s protecting a 1 or 2 run lead.  Also, Charlie is responsible for Papelbon’s rust.  After the game he seemed almost unaware that it had been a week since Papelbon pitched.  

I think the biggest adjustment for Phillies’ fans this year is how the team has played in close games.  They’ve already lost a half-dozen games in the 9th inning or later and in the past the Phils always scratched out those tight wins.  They had the reliable bullpen.  They came up with the unsung hero.  Not this season.  It’s turned what should probably be a team that’s a few games over .500 into a last place team that hasn’t been able to win three in a row.  The troubling thing is, even if the Phillies start playing even better, you don’t envision many comfortable wins on the horizon.  Can this bullpen, this bench and this manager still win the close ones?  

***

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Phillies had an uber-prospect?  A wunderkind?  With the promotion of Bryce Harper, I suppose it’s time for a new prospect obsession.  How does the name Dylan Bundy sit with you?  Bundy and his obsessive health/workout/long-toss habits were recently featured in a Sports Illustrated piece.  Bundy was drafted in the 1st round by the Orioles last summer and has quickly become the prize of the Minor Leagues.  He did not allow a hit in his first 13 innings of work.  He’s struck out 25 in 17 innings.  He still has a 0.00 ERA.  Opposing hitters are 1 for 50 off him.  That’s not a typo.  They’re hitting .020.  As a high-school senior (last year) he was 11-0 with a .20 ERA and 158 Ks in 78 innings.  Before games he often stretches out his long-tossing regimen to 400 feet.  Long toss has been phased out in many organizations, but young phenoms like Bundy are helping to revive the practice.  The Orioles still have Bundy on a strict pitch count, however, but you wonder how much longer they’ll be able to keep Bundy toiling in the Sally League.  

***

I meant to post this yesterday as my Derby follow-up, but it slipped my mind.  Perhaps you heard that I’ll Have Another took home the rose blanket.  For accuracy, that’s I’ll Have Another (cookie) not I’ll have Another (Vodka wave the Cran-Wand).  That’s the owner’s story, anyway.  The shame of the Derby is, it’s just become a spectacle.  Unless I’ll Have Another threatens the Triple Crown no one will remember this horse a couple of months from now.  What will we remember–Tom Brady’s dazzling sartorial choices, of course.  Should have known he’d go no hat.  Ultimate power move.

 

Tom Looking More Like Gisele Every Day.

Rivera, The Flyers and Your Derby Lock.

All The Debutantes Will Wait for Brady to set the ’12 Hat Trends.

Closer down.  This was the most depressing scene surrounding a blown knee since Bob Huggins spooned Da’Sean Butler in the NCAA Tournament a couple of years back.  Mariano Rivera, who’s famous for his BP shagging, took a misstep near the warning track in Kansas City last night and tore his ACL.  Rivera was chasing a ball off the bat of Jayson Nix, known in these parts as “The Other Nix,” and had to be carted off the field in what quickly became a somber scene.  Rivera’s meeting with the press following the announcement of the torn ACL was even more depressing, an emotional Rivera openly wondering whether he’d ever pitch again.

For a player already contemplating retirement in the near future,  the prospect of facing a long and rigorous rehab when you’ve been remarkably healthy your whole career has to be a daunting.  Part of Rivera’s legend is his apparent invulnerability to age and injury, and disbelief was a popular theme running through many of the reaction interviews.  I have a feeling that once the injury sinks in, Rivera will attempt to return to the mound.  If not for a full season, at least to dictate his ending on his own terms.

There’s certainly nothing to add to the legacy.  I think back to the beginning of Rivera’s career when he was setting up and the universal belief was that we were watching the closer in waiting.  I think about how many closers in waiting completely fizzle.  The failure rate is high, the average career length for those who succeed is short.  Rivera proved to be the ultimate outlier in both cases.  His post-season success and consistency proved a challenge to even the most cynical of stat-heads who discount the closer position.

Perhaps we will see Rivera’s true value now that he will miss the remainder of 2012.  The Yankees have candidates to replace him, but their readiness could be questioned.  David Robertson, whose stats are Rivera-like, sounded like he was talking himself out of the job when interviewed last night.  Whether that’s him being overly deferential to Rivera, or if he really would be overwhelmed by replacing a Hall of Famer, we won’t know until he’s given the opportunity.  The other option would appear to be Rafael Soriano, who has the closing experience, but has been far less dominant than Robertson.

Closers remind me a bit of running backs sometimes, because I think you can often replace an average one, but at the same time there’s no substitute for the truly elite.  It’s not all about getting the last three outs, it’s about the whole team playing with confidence because of the inevitability of the ninth inning.  The problem for the Yankees is that the loss of Rivera weakens what was the strength of their staff.  The top-7 ERAs on staff belong to relievers.  The starting pitching in the 3-5 slots has been shoddy–at best.  The Yankees are scoring some runs, but not enough to erase the starting pitching problems–now they need to find a new closer.

***

The Flyers dropped game three in overtime last night.  A bit of a strange affair, and certainly enough to start bringing back some painful feelings from the past.  There were times when the Flyers looked good last night, but there were far too many stretches where the Devils carried the play and the sequence of events that led to the game-winner for Jersey simply cannot happen.  To me it looks like the Flyers haven’t fully adjusted from playing Pittsburgh.  The Pens were willing to run and gun with the Flyers, but the Devils are a far more aggressive team on defense and the penalty kill.  The Flyers can’t sit back and wait for the goals to start flooding in, they need to make some adjustments.  It’s been a close series, and it’s far from over, but the game Sunday night will be huge and could end up determining how Flyers fans judge this season.

***

Bit of pitching mismatch down in Washington tonight.  Kyle Kendrick, whose ceiling resides in the 6IP, 3ER neighborhood takes on Stephen Strasburg, who throws really, really hard and possesses a microscopic ERA.  Strasburg suffered his injury against the Phillies in 2010, so I don’t think they’ve seen much of the phenom aside from that abbreviated outing.  Of course, most games involving these teams this season have been pitching dominated.  The Nats have scored 15 fewer runs than the Phillies.  Did you think such a thing was possible?  The Phils are actually 6-3 and averaging over 5 per game in their last nine.  It’s drug them to the middle of the NL in runs scored.  Rare air.  If they can keep that up against Washington’s glitzy starters, it should bode well for them winning the series.  Keep in mind, this is also the weekend where the Nationals were trying to keep Philly fans out of their park, so be sure to tune in and see how unsuccessful that was.

***

Ok, no more fluff and filler.  We need a Derby winner.  Here’s a complete preview of the Derby Field from someone who has watched a horse race this year–or at least I assume they have.  Also includes photos, so you can pick which horse is the prettiest.   You can’t underestimate the importance of the horse face test.  You might not think I’m qualified to pick a Derby winner, but the 20-horse field is pretty much a lottery.  Anything can happen.  Some uninformed tips…

1.  Never bet the favorite.  That eliminates Bodemeister, who is trying to become the first horse since the late 18 hundies to win the Derby without racing as 2-year old.  Is he named after Bode Miller?  I don’t know.  This also applies to the horse that emerged as the favorite last year when people were taking shots in the dark.  So, bad news for Union Rags.

2.  Beware Wordplay.  Horse naming is a tough racket, so puns and other plays on words run rampant.  Don’t be lured in by a horse like, “Daddy Nose Best.”  That’s awful.  But…

3.  At least show some effort.  Often times the owners will take an adjective and just manipulate that sumbitch.  For example, Optimizer.  That’s lazy.  One step above Beauterrific (not in the field).  Also lazy?  Random professions, forget about Gemologist.

Ok, who’s going to take this thing?  How about Hansen?  Look at the albino freight train…

Go Ahead and Wear White Before Memorial Day.

I don’t remember seeing many all white racehorses.  I’m taken by the novelty.  Plus, this will be the easiest horse in the field to pick out of the pack, and Hansen likes to run from the front, so you should at least have a few moments of hope if he happens to collapse down the stretch.  Hansen will be in post-position 14 and is currently sitting at 10:1.  Lock city.  I’ll take Dullahan and Creative Cause to round out an epic Trifecta box.  Nice box.

 

The Boondoggle Tank.

T.O., Have You Heard of the Condiment Revolver?

To make this post I’ve got to make a slightly embarrassing confession.  I watch the Shark Tank.  For those of you that rightfully and admirably have no idea what that is–it’s a reality show.  There are five very wealthy “sharks” (sometimes including Mark Cuban!) and they watch proposals from inventors, small business owners, etc. and decide whether or not to invest in the company.  It’s a great opportunity for the people coming on the show, because the exposure alone is worth possible millions for their business, but it’s usually a good opportunity for the “sharks” as well.  They, at least in theory, are good business people.  They’re in the position of power and they often squeeze sweetheart deals out of the people who actually created the product.  

Aside from enjoying the cocky sharks throwing money around, I like watching for the ideas.  Some are incredibly good and you know right away the person will be rich with or without the sharks.  But some are terrible.  The producers usually throw in one bomb a show and the investors tear them to shreds.  “Eighteen hundred in sales!  Get out of my sight!”  The crazy thing is, the people with the terrible ideas think they’re great ideas.  They leave with their held high.  I’m not going to give up, they say, and then they go borrow another 20-grand from an unsuspecting relative.  

My idea is to unite these people with a passion for horrible ideas with a group of investors who have a track record of making terrible, fortune eroding investments.  What class of people are famous for blowing large sums of money?  How about athletes?  Athletes these days are really the perfect target for fraud.  They come into a ton of money in a short period of time, they often don’t have much experience being wealthy or managing any type of wealth, but more than that they all are willing.  A lot of these guys want to do the right thing.  They want to invest.  They want to be smart and secure, but since they don’t really know what they’re doing, they throw money at anyone who says the word, “opportunity.”  This is how you hear of guys who made 9 figures in their career ending up broke.  Oh you wanted to build a condo complex in some Florida swamp?  I can’t believe that didn’t work out.  

Now, I know this show sounds a little dark.  Watching people lose money–what kind of person am I?  Well, the twist is, it’s not an actual show like Shark Tank.  It’s more of an intervention.  You get the four or five athletes together.  You get the people who have sunk their life savings into a horrible idea and you let them in a room together.  You watch them negotiate.  You watch the terrible decisions be made, but then right before the next Antoine Walker cuts the check you have someone charge out from backstage and stop the transaction.  The final step is you sit down the athlete and the person with the horrible idea with a legitimate financial advisor.  They tell the athlete to save their money, they tell the contestant to give up hope on his solar-powered dog trimmer and it’s a happy ending for all.  I think this is a pretty easy sell.  

***

Weekend Wrap-Up…

1.  We have a Bryce Harper Debut.  The Nats rushed Harper a bit because their LFs were hitting .087.  Can’t do much worse than that.  Harper looks pretty comfortable in the early going, and Washington’s division lead allows him to come up without huge expectations.  He’s just a young guy hitting 7th right now.  The Nats could eventually use some help on offense, though.  They’re just 5-5 in their last 10 and leaning heavily on that pitching staff.  The only sign that Harper is a little wide-eyed?  After Matt Kemp’s walk-off homer on Saturday, Harper rattled off Kemp’s stats to the letter.  “He’s hitting .440 with 11 jacks and 24 RBI,” Harper said.  Those were his exact numbers.  You’ll almost never see a baseball player do that.  They might know a guy’s stats, but they’d never ADMIT it.  Tough to play it cool when you sound like a Matt Kemp Roto owner in the clubhouse after the game, Bryce.  

2.  Flyers slipped by the Devils in OT.  I was at the Phillies game, so I missed most of the action, but I hear that the Flyers TOTALLY DOMINATED after some initial rust.  You can’t keep Briere down in the playoffs.  He’s either kicking pucks in illegally, or rifling shots from the point.  

3.  Derek Rose blew an ACL.  This is bad news for Heat-haters like myself, and I suppose the people in Chicago as well.  President Obama is probably crushed.  It won’t alter the series against the Sixers.  The Bulls could play any five guys and cruise, but it seems to really open up the East for the Heat.  What Miami did to New York over the weekend was…uncomfortable.  I kept waiting for someone on the Knicks roster to say, “No means no.”  Elsewhere in the NBA, the Grizz blew a 24 point lead in the 4th quarter.  That really shouldn’t be possible.  

4.   The Redskins were riding high with their selection of RG3 on the opening day of the draft.  Then, they took another QB prospect–Kirk Cousins.  Now, Cousins is a prospect in relation to RG3 like Miller 64 is a beer in relation to Sierra Nevada.  Still, though, I viewed this as Washington controlling their own image.  All this positive buzz from Griffin and they just said, “Whoa, whoa whoa. We’re still the Redskins.  We’ll still make terrible decisions at the drop of a hat.  Know that.”  The real test will be for the ‘Skins fan base.  If they even think of getting behind Cousins, they should all turn in their pig snouts and dresses.  

5. Historic episode for Roger Sterling on Mad Men last night.  The veteran ad-man was scuffling a bit this season, feeling a bit like a horse put out to pasture, but one week he’s taking some LSD and the next week he’s the Roger of old.  On fire.  I won’t ruin it any further, but Roger could be one more black-tie function away from regaining the upper hand in the accounts department.  

Pretty Much Everything.

One Minute After the Longest, Most Awkward Hug of All-Time.

Bit of a shoddy week around here.  What can you do?  I’m going to try to remedy the light content week with a real big flourish heading into the weekend.  All quantity, no quality.  It’s a 4-sport weekend in Philadelphia.  They don’t come around too often.  With the Sixers mail-in last night and the Eagles not blatantly tanking the 1st round–things have gotten off to a pretty solid start.  The rundown….

NFL DRAFT:

Great 1st round.  Thank you for not taking six hours.  Back in the day, you’d turn the Draft on at noon and they’d crank out about 4 picks an hour.  It was torture.  Then again, you could go out and play a round of golf and come back to find you’d only missed about 1/2 a round.  With the clock trimmed to 10 minutes and with teams trading up with specific players in mind, the picks came in a quick rhythm.  In fact, if ESPN hadn’t been slowing things down a bit, I think they could have done 2.5 hours.  Maybe next year.  Observations…

1.  Roger Goodell really liked ALL the draft picks.  Maybe too much.  There are handshakes, there are congratulatory hugs and then there’s what Goodell was doing last night.  He put together a 32 game winning streak in the game “nervous,” that’s for sure.  He locked onto those picks and just wouldn’t let go.  After the standard jokes were made…it just became uncomfortable.

2.  The Eagles traded up and took a player the fans wanted.  Or at least had on the radar.  A couple of years back the Eagles pulled the same thing, the fans waited for Goodell to announce Earl Thomas, but he said Brandon Graham instead.  Shock and anger from the masses.  Fast forward to Thomas being a total beast (the bypassed JPP as well) and Graham hardly ever seeing the field and you’ve got one nervous fan base when the Eagles’ card comes to the podium.  Cox was a chalk pick, though.  It’ll be tough to pin this on the front office if he doesn’t pan out, because everyone liked the guy.

3.  Speaking of busts, I don’t want to be negative, but would Andrew Luck be the biggest bust ever if he doesn’t turn into a franchise quarterback?  You can’t be a bust without hype and Luck is unmatched in that category.  What struck me about Luck is that he’s a total goof.  He fails the “face test.”  But as I tweeted last night to my 15 followers, Eli has shattered the scale for the “face test,” and completely erased its validity.  But still, massive face test failure for Luck who looks and sounds like an oversized Little Leaguer.  I’m nervous about how he’ll survive his 1st season with 21 gaping holes around him in the locker room.

4.  I always get that twinge of regret every year when my dream corner gets taken.  Joe Haden to the Browns.  Gut shot.  Patrick Peterson to Arizona.  Bitter pill.  But Morris Claiborne to Dallas last night was a whole new level.  The Cowboys run a draft like I would.  Throw caution to the wind, trade up, and take the guy with name value.  How can that go wrong? Their prize was Claiborne, who should help their secondary immensely, but won’t be able to help Tony Romo is his quest to qualify for the US Open.  Interesting side-note about Claiborne, in response to his reported score of “4″ on the Wonderlic  (that’s quite low), he said he tanked the test on purpose, because he’s out of school and didn’t see any questions about football.  Oh, Mo, we really could have had something.

5.  We’ve now gone 21 straight years without a draft pick wearing jean shorts.  Brett Favre is Cal Ripken and Joe D all rolled into one on this one, I think.  Even Brandon Weeden, who appeared to be watching from home, threw together a look that I’d describe as “Graduate Assistant.”

Lloyd Christmas Meets every 7th Grader in 1992.

NHL Playoffs:  

After a long, luxurious wait the Flyers will face the Devils in round two.  Did I say I wanted the Devils?  I wanted the Devils.  New Jersey slipped by Florida in game 7 to set up a familiar playoff matchup.  Of course, the history with New Jersey is not as fresh as it feels.  I can take myself back to the painful playoff series of the Lindros era and it feels like it happened yesterday.  The truth is, it’s been a long time and about the only familiar face left is Marty Brodeur.  The New Jersey teams that stepped over the Flyers on the way to the Cup don’t exist.  In fact, you could argue the demons have been exorcised.  In 2004 and 2010, the Flyers dismissed the Devils from the playoffs with relative ease.  What I want out of this series is to send Brodeur into retirement on a sour note.  I’d like to see him peppered and then pulled.  The biggest obstacle facing the Flyers would appear to be their long layoff.  It hasn’t kept Vegas from bumping the Flyers up to their second choice at 9:2.  Flyers Kitten will probably pop up next week, but in the meantime, he wanted me to let everyone know that Still the Beat Bang.  Keys and Prediction….

  1. Get to Brodeur Early in the Series
  2. Continue Power Play Dominance
  3. Stay out of Giroux’s Way
  4. Keep an Eye Out for Scott Stevens…Just in Case
  5. Flyers in 5.

***

Phillies vs. Cubs–4 Game Set in Search of a .500+ April.  

The Phils closed their trip in fine fashion against Arizona.  They scored 20 runs in the series and by Sunday, their run production was being taken a bit more seriously.  They’ve got a golden opportunity to keep things going against Chicago. The Cubs are struggling in the early going, and have given up nearly 5 runs a game, which a ton in the modern NL.

Stat of the Day in an Attempt to Gain Perspective:  Washington Nationals 69 Runs scored (14-5 record).  Philadelphia Phillies 63 Runs scored (9-10 record).

I think there might be a bit of a misconception out there about how well the Nats are playing.  As you can see, they’ve scored a grand total of 6 more runs than the Phillies this season.  Or, .3 more runs a game.  That surplus has added up to five more wins.  So even though we’re apoplectic about the Phillies offense, the Nationals offense is a bit dreadful in its own right.  They’re being bolstered by a preposterous 2.2o Team ERA, which is not sustainable.  Especially when you realize they’ve played their 1st 19 games against Chicago, Cincy, SD, Houston and New York who are a combined 20 games under .500.  You could say much of the same about the Phillies in the early going, but that’s the point.  Washington has pitched a little better and gotten a bit more timely production.  So, just for the record, the Phillies aren’t chasing down some indomitable beast.  The Nats are a team with good pitching and a favorable early schedule.  They can easily be run down over the next 143 games.

So, anyway, important for the Phils to win this series against Chicago to keep momentum going for the big Atlanta/WSH trip that kicks off May.

NBA Playoffs:  

Yesterday I heard the NFL is getting pretty close to putting the Pro Bowl to bed.  A mercy killing.  So appropriate.  I had hoped they were going to do the same thing with the NBA playoffs, but it looks like they’re going to go ahead and press on for the next 3 months.  Don’t cancel your July NBA Finals parties.  It’s going to happen.  In a strange turn of events, and despite their best efforts, the Sixers have tumbled into the playoffs as the #8 seed in the East.  Their reward is a matchup with the Chicago Bulls.  The Sixers are 100:1 to win the NBA Championship.  Do NOT take a little taste of that.  Consider this your NBA Playoff coverage unless something really comical happens to the Heat.  Go Knicks!  Melo for MVP!

A Breath From Sports:  What the Hell Happened To John Cusack?

Have you seen the preview for Poe, or whatever that Edgar Allen Poe atrocity is?  John Cusack has become the Shannon Tweed of the half-hearted suspense stink bomb. Let’s take a road trip to Cusack’s IMDB page.  Looking at the titles, it appears that Cusack saved his career once and then blew it.  Peruse the following:

Teen Star Era:

  1. Sixteen Candles
  2. Better Off Dead
  3. Stand By Me
  4. One Crazy Summer
  5. Say Anything

Now Cusack could have just faded away there as a legend of the 80s, but he instead decided to fail as an adult actor for some time.  Have you seen Grifters?  It’s got career-ending potential.  But Cusack hung tough.  He kept shooting.  That’s the only way to break a slump.  It allowed him a bit of a revival.

Finally Shook the “In Your Eyes” Moment Era:

  1. Grosse Pointe Blank
  2. Pushing Tin
  3. Being John Malkovich
  4. High Fidelity

Right around this time, you’re thinking, Man–that Cusack.  He’s like an uglier, more neurotic Hugh Grant.  Sky is the limit.  But no.  It turns out that Cusack can’t REALLY carry a movie.  He’s like a AAAA player in baseball.  He can do weird.  He can do kind of funny, but there are limitations.  Instead of cultivating those limitations and showing up in only oddball roles like his sister, Cusack has insisted on being the leading man, which has sent him slaloming down the slopes of script quality.  It leads to roles in moves like 1408 (about haunted hotels) and 2012 (about the world ending) and The Factory (starring no one) and now finally The Raven (I looked the name up).

The point of all this is, you can put John Cusack as the star of your movie, but it’s a little like batting Ty Wigginton cleanup.

***

Ok, there you go.  A mega-post.  A pile of unrelated junk to take you into the weekend.  Be sure to tune in next Friday when we lay down an absolute stone-cold, mortal Exacta lock in the Kentucky Derby.  Have a good one…

Flyers Have Pens in a Bit of a Spot.

The Sidney Crosby of SCDP.

If you don’t watch Mad Men and playoff hockey, I’m afraid I don’t have too much time for you right now.  Spoiler:  Peter Campbell got his ass handed to him last night on Mad Men.  The general consensus around the offices of Sterling, Cooper, Draper Price was that Campbell deserved the beating and the majority of the sympathy fell to the guy who did the pummeling.  The only difference between the Mad Men episode and the Flyers game is that Sidney Crosby’s teammates jump to his defense when he acts like a spoiled (wildly offensive noun).  Pete Campbell’s co-workers just stood around and let it happen.  So on the scale of being insufferable, I suppose Campbell still has Crosby beat–but just by a nose.

I assume everyone has been caught up on the details by now.  Two more come from behind wins for the Flyers.  A total of 16 goals in two games for the Orange and Black.  Dueling hat tricks from Cooter and Claude in game two.  The total loss of control by the refs in game three.  I don’t remember a playoff series ever starting off in such an unexpected way.  What’s made it so strange…

1.  The play of Marc-Andre Fleury.  The Penguins goalie has been horrific.  0-3, 6.34 GAA, .798 Save Percentage.  Those numbers shouldn’t be possible, even for a small sample like three games.  Fleury has actually made a handful of great in this series, but the Flyers attack, which has been coming in waves, has turned the Pittsburgh goalie into a quivering pile of mush.  If the Pens weren’t scoring their fair share of goals, he likely would have been pulled long before game 3.  The Pens need to patch this guy together for game 4.

2.  Flyers winning without dominate goalie play.  Bryz has had his moments.  He’s been hung out to dry by his defense on a few occasions, and kept the Flyers in game two with a couple of spectacular saves.  On the other hand, he let in some comically soft goals in game 3, and the Flyers could have easily won that game 8-2.  If the Flyers get by the Penguins, they’re not going to keep scoring 6 goals a game, so Bryz will have to rein in the mental lapses.

3.  Play of Flyers Rookies.  The Flyers are young.  It’s my favorite thing about the team.  Rookies like Matt Read, Sean Couturier, and Brayden Schenn have big responsibilities with this team and have all year.  Toward the end of the season, in the case of Matt Read especially, you wondered if the long season was starting to grind on these guys.  All those three have done is combine for 6 goals and 6 assists in 3 games.  Throw in Courturier’s handling of Malkin and you could make a case he’s been the team’s MVP so far.

4.  The Magic Time Out Lives.  I’ve never seen a coach call as many timeouts in the opening periods as Peter Laviolette.  He calls them when the Flyers are down, he calls them when they’re about to go on a 5-on-3 advantage and they always seem to work.  Lavy’s tirades still seem to have a positive impact on this team, which is always a good sign.

The other issue with this series and the other match-ups around the NHL is the presence of the cheap shot, a strain of play that has crossed over the line to dirty.  It started with Shea Weber and continued through the weekend.  Sometimes you can go a whole playoff series without seeing a fight, but the gloves have been dropping all over the place and it’s often been on the heels of some very questionable hits.  While hockey die-hards are loving the old school action, I’m afraid we’re on the verge of seeing a serious injury that could turn a series or seriously hinder a team’s chances of making a run.

There’s no way to make this anything but a homer’s viewpoint, but in my opinion the Penguins spent the last 6 or 8 minutes of Sunday’s game skating around trying to injure Flyers’ players.  Sean Courturier was the first target and then Claude Giroux was the victim of a wild run.  Unlike their battle at the end of the regular season, Peter Laviolette and the Flyers did a pretty good job of keeping their composure, but the Pens keep coming and taking every chance to turn a legal hit into a questionable one.  It appears the Flyers escaped the game unscathed, but I don’t like their chances to do so again if they end up with another big lead in what would be a clinching win.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Pens face any punishment for their actions in game three.  It’s pretty clear the referees have little control on the ice, so we’ll see if the NHL can do anything to control the reckless play with some suspensions.  Otherwise, the teams moving forward might be more banged up than usual.