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.

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