Getting Ready for Football. Fantasy or Otherwise.

Training Camp?

Training Camp?

The NFL season is 36 days away.  We’re into training camp.  We’re already experiencing season-altering injuries.  The Eagles high-speed attack is already down a significant amount of horsepower with the loss of Jeremy Maclin.  In fantasy terms, Maclin becomes one of the top-5 guys some moron will draft accidentally.  I imagine Aaron Hernandez has a lock on the 1-spot for that list this season.  So, with five weeks to prepare, the question is: Are you Ready?  

House Cleaning Interlude:  The Blog will be sponsoring the 4th year of D.A. Fantasy Football.  FOUR YEARS!  Suck on that, Grantland.  We need one person to fill out the roster of GMs, so if anyone is interested or knows of someone who might want to play–speak up.  It’s really not complicated or that time consuming.  Plus, you could win a T-Shirt!  

Look at that Sweetie!

Look at that Sweetie!

Ok, thanks for your patience there.  One question I thought of before settling down for this post is, what do people like more–football or fantasy football?  You have your home team and then YOUR team.  In my experience, people who play fantasy football care more about their fantasy teams than their actual team on most occasions.  Gather any group of fantasy playing guys or gals together for a game and there will be plenty of stat checking and plenty of flipping to the Red Zone.  Of course, there are the fans who don’t play fantasy football and they loathe its very existence.  And this is understandable, because people who play fantasy football are insufferable.  It’s just a fact of life.  Fantasy is the engine, though.  I would think if you posted an article called, “Top-10 Fantasy QBs,” it’d get a lot more action that “Top-10 NFL QBs.”  

Maybe fantasy success is easier to quantify?  You know Ben Roethlisberger is a middling fantasy QB, but his merits at the position in real life can be debated across a wide spectrum.  Cam Newton is mostly talent and inconsistency on the field, but that translates into a known and powerful fantasy commodity.  Perhaps fantasy football is more conducive to our infatuation with lists.  Speaking of which…

My Top-10 Fantasy Football QBs for 2013:

  1. Drew Brees.  I’m on Brees this year.  Big Time.  It’s all about spite and revenge.  
  2. Peyton Manning.  Manning has one last historic regular season.  Plus, Welker!
  3. Aaron Rodgers.  Mr. Consistency makes a star out of Randall “Cunningham” Cobb.
  4. RG3.  I believe in RG3’s health.  He had a baby’s knee! He’s a damn force.  
  5. Matt Ryan.  Julio Jones isn’t playing fair.  
  6. Colin Kaepernick.  Rushing yards are fantasy QB gold.
  7. Tom Brady.  Gronk better heal up, but Brady’s always good for a 4/1 TD/INT ratio.
  8. Cam Newton.  Rushing TDs.
  9. Matt Stafford.  Has been more durable.  Megatron.
  10. Tony Romo.  Remember, Fantasy Rankings.  

***

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Are you wanting more fantasy talk, or some actual football talk?  What of this whole Chip Kelly thing?  

Something I like about the NFL is that it validates the fans’ complaints about coaching.  In other sports you don’t really know what impact the coach is having.  Should we fire the manager?  Will it help?  I DON’T KNOW.  There’s talk about managing personalities and motivating, but those are all hard to quantify.  Everyone knows, without a doubt that a head football coach makes a difference to a team.  Just look at New Orleans last season.  Not only the coach, but who he has on his staff, his ability to make adjustments in the game.  NFL coaches earn their money and this year in Philadelphia we’ll get to see if one can make an impact.  

The Eagles were terrible and a disorganized mess last year (if not for many years before that).  They won 4 games.  You look at the roster and you don’t see where an extra six or seven wins would be coming from, yet there are optimists that think that way and it’s all because of Chip Kelly.  Kelly is supposed to take a lot of the same talent and mold it into something better.  A great offense built to his specifications.  Now, the offensive line should be healthier and better, but it’s still Vick and Foles.  It’s still a defense that should make you nervous.  

Fair or not, Chip Kelly’s system is going to be graded on this season.  Barring unusual circumstance, if the Eagles win 8 games, we’ll think that Kelly was worth 4 wins.  Will that be enough, though?  The Eagles will also test the patience of the fan base this season and will be a good model of fan patience in general.  Everyone says they’ll take a rebuilding year in support of the new regime, but what happens when the team actually starts losing games?  Do the fans keep that promise?

***

10 Fantasy Bust-Outs for 2013 (no particular order):

  1. Randall Cobb.  Going to make those 950 yards look like chump change.
  2. Danario Alexander.  Had some huge games last year for Chargers.
  3. Lamar Miller.  I assume the Dolphins will give the ball to someone.
  4. Coby Fleener.  Colts should throw plenty.
  5. Andrew Luck.  More TDs, less INTs.
  6. Danny Amendola.  Just give him #83 and be done with it.
  7. David Wilson.  I get the sense NY wants Wilson to be the #1 guy
  8. Chris Ivory.  The New Jets back that someone must start every week–begrudgingly.  
  9. Tavon Austin.  The Rams have all their eggs in this basket.
  10. Kenny Britt.  When Britt isn’t hurt or otherwise not on the field–he’s a stud.

***

One of the big themes for the NFL season and it’s there in what I said about Chip Kelly is living up to expectations.  There are a lot of big name players with huge expectations in front of them.  You can start with the newly dubbed, Big Four–Kaepernick, Griffin, Luck and Wilson.  I think the respective fan bases are all expecting these QBs to become the elite player in the league at the position.  That’s asking a lot, especially when at least one of them is due for some type of regression?  And, it’s not just QBs.  Adrian Peterson has impossible numbers to live up to.  Same with Megatron, JJ Watt, Wes Welker, and the list goes on.  To tie the two themes together, there’s a chance your biggest fantasy bust could be one of the “big four” QBs, or another player that belongs on this list.  Career years don’t come every year.  

Parting Shot…

Top-5 Players Someone (hopefully not you) Will Get Stuck with in Your League:

1.  Carson Palmer.  But, his fantasy numbers are decent!  He throws for a lot of yards.  Larry Fitzgerald!  Value.  There’s no worse feeling than talking yourself into Palmer.  His presence on “sleeper” lists guarantees someone will be doing it this year  

2.  Ryan Mathews.  The horror.  

3. Greg Jennings.  Look at those career numbers.  Then look at Christian Ponder.  Plus, Minnesota already proved they don’t need a passing game to go 10-6.  

4. Eli Manning.  Game 1: 325 Yards, 3Tds.  Game 2: 178 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT.  Repeat.

5. Darren Sproles.  Good for 2-23 points every week.  Perpetual trade “throw-in” that no one wants.  But, you get Sproles too!

 

 

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Phillies Try Cuba

Hopefully Kramer Isn't Their International Scout.

Hopefully Kramer Isn’t Their International Scout.

I was asked in the comments what my initial reaction to the Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez signing was, and honestly other than a strong urge to refer to him as “Fettuccine,” I didn’t really know much about him.  I’m sure no one has a great handle on the guy.  He’s pitched sparingly in the last two years, but the consensus is the Phillies have signed a Major Leaguer.  Whether he’ll be a burden or a bargain at 48 million remains to be seen.

The scouting report is low-90s fastball that can creep up toward 95 and then from there it gets a little cloudy.  There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on his secondary pitches.  Some say they are good enough to give him #2 starter ceiling while others say they will relegate him to relief duty.  Gonzalez is “26.”  Are we still dubious on the ages of Cuban players?  Is that not a thing anymore?  Well, regardless it’s the first long-term contract the Phillies have given anyone lately that won’t end significantly after the player has left their prime years–so, that’s a good thing.

But, what else could this signing mean?

First, it’s not a huge outlay of money.  It’s a lot of money to give an unproven player, but baseball has always had a huge advantage over their prospects.  If Gonzalez was entering the NFL, this is the kind of deal he’d get–totally untested.  And really, the money equates to that of a 3rd or 4th starter on a big-market payroll.  If Joe Blanton can make 8 million, the expectations attached to that number shouldn’t be too burdensome.

There is an expectation of something more, though, and part of that is the Cuban mystique and part of it the recent success of Cuban players.  Yoenis Cespedes (despite his struggles this year) has been viewed as a good signing and of course, Yasiel Puig has stormed into the National League with some awe-inspiring performances.  Both these players will likely easily justify their large contracts, but it doesn’t mean Gonzalez is a sure thing.  There is still plenty of risk for the Phillies, but it’s not going to define the era, or be an albatross of a contract.

I also don’t think the signing signifies money coming off the books in other areas.  They don’t need to trade anyone to pay for Gonzalez.  Not really.  Plenty of money comes off next year to squeeze in an 8-million dollar deal.  So, what strikes me most about this signing is that position Gonzalez plays.  Perhaps you noticed he isn’t an outfielder.  Or a third baseman.  Or a catcher.  Nope, the Phillies went out and got another starting pitcher.  This despite looking at massive holes at 3 positions next season.  The Phillies, who have lost six in a row and scored 10 runs total in those games are adding another arm.  Why not?

I could be wrong, but I think this is Ruben trying to build one more great rotation.  Perhaps he knows the offense is too flawed to fix.  He won 102 games two years ago with an average offense.  So, is he tempted by the idea of Lee, Hamels, Gonzalez, Halladay (on a team-friendly, short term deal) and Kendrick as a starting rotation in 2014?  He’d have to be, and for upside potential–it’s a hell of a rotation.

Ruben has tremendous belief in his current players, because he signed most of them long-term, but I can see him getting especially rosy about the prospects of Hamels and Halladay returning to form next year to compliment Lee and now Gonzalez. Essentially with one signing he’s given himself a shot at something, which is a lot easier than trying to figure out the lineup.  And, who is out there to play 3b anyway?  Or catcher, or a corner outfield spot?

So, I could be wrong, and Lee could be shipped off to a contender today, but this feels like Ruben trying to fix things one last time.  Expect Utley to stick around.   Maybe Ruiz too.  And there will another year of Delmon Young or someone similar in RF. The bench and the bullpen will likely remain black holes.

A final question I have is, I’m not sure this is what Phillies fans want.  Another coat of paint, so to speak?  Sure, it could be a good rotation, but it could get awfully ugly.  The age and health of Utley/Rollins/Howard will become an even bigger concern. And, if Dom Brown isn’t a middle of the order presence?  Then what?  I am pulling for Brown, but he’s got six good weeks in the big leagues.  Not exactly a bankable record.  If Howard can’t produce and Brown struggles, this team will score NO runs next year and it won’t matter how much they get from the starters.

The jury obviously will remain out on this one for a while, but it was a nice distraction from getting dominated by Doug Fister.

 

The Mid-Week Mailbag.

Less People Would Eat Pork Butt if This Was on the Package?

Fewer People Would Eat Pork Butt if This Was on the Package?

Do you think the pig gets enough credit as the King of Breakfast?  I’m not sure where pork stands in the meat eating world.  I imagine a lot of people would say, “Well, a Pig is no COW.”  The cow is our meat overlord.  And, there’s some truth to that, but the pig is more versatile than Jose Oquendo.  Just look at the breakfast table, or better yet a breakfast buffet.  Are the hotel pans alive with the sound of crackling bacon?  Sausage?  Ham?  Pork Roll?  What part of the pig is pork roll?  I DON’T KNOW.  But, it eats pretty good.  There’s even scrapple if pork roll is a little too high brow for your tastes.  Sure, you can get yourself an order of steak and eggs, but that’s all you get.  How about eggs and pork six ways? That’s what I thought.  So, when eating breakfast–the most important meal of the day–take a moment to reflect.  I think Charlotte put it best, “Some Pig.”  A mailbag…

Q:  Why does every single website require you to log in?  U. Sername, Porch Swing, MI.  

A.  Part of me thinks it’s because they can.  They want to exert that power over you.  Oh, you’d like to pay a bill online?  Buy a pair boots?  Meet your future wife?  That’s going to require a bit of information and you just provide it willingly, because in that moment you are a sheep–a slave to commercialism.  I think the real reason, though, is that a valid email address is a currency.  They can pepper you with SPAM.  They track your buying habits.  They may even know what kind of YouTube videos you like.  All of this is then used to make you buy even more stuff as they cater their promotions specifically to you.  They may also sell your information.  WHY NOT?  I’m sure there is some theoretical value assigned to email addresses.  If you had a list of 1 million emails, someone would tell you that it was worth SOMETHING.  Now, they wouldn’t give you a dime, but they’d call it an asset.  It’s kind of like if your Facebook page gets a hundred thousand “likes.”  That must mean something, I just don’t know what that would be.  But, if the log in page is really getting you down, I suggest some experimentation into aliases. 

Q: Does one sport produce or cater to more pampered/spoiled children than all the others?  There’s got to be an inordinate number of spoiled monsters playing sweet lax, correct?  Mohr Chocolate, Towson, MD.

A:  Well, they don’t call it sweet, sweet lax for nothing, but we shouldn’t really single out the kids here and I don’t know if you can narrow it down to one sport.  I think there is a type of parent who just spoils their kid and regardless of the sport they are playing the kid is going to make you want to throw up.  The vision of a spoiled kid to me is actually related to baseball.  I see batting gloves.  The newest batting gloves.  More than a bat, or a nice Easton bat bag, a tube of eye black or a Rawlings Gold Glove, the batting gloves always said two things to me–soft and spoiled. No kid NEEDS batting gloves.  It’s the summer.  The pitcher is throwing 43 mph.  There’s no pine tar, BUT the bats HAVE GRIPS on them.  So, if you get your kid batting gloves, you’re spoiling them.  I never really had a pair despite plenty of evidence pointing to me being spoiled.  So, I don’t think this is really a sport specific phenomenon, but if you want to break it down to dollar values you have to go with a sport that doesn’t have a uniform.  At least lax parents don’t shell out for various game day outfits.  You have a kid on the AJGA golf circuit and he’s going to need about a thousand dollar wardrobe.  Ever go to a horse show?  Oh, that’s a cute shirt!  It should be–it cost SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS.  

Q: Did You Know that the Washington Kastles recently won their 34th straight Team Tennis match and they then made claim to the longest winning streak in American Professional Sports.  You know, one more win than the Lakers.  Is the most ridiculous/embarrassing claim in history?  Patrick McInrow, Pittsburgh, PA.

A:  I’m glad you asked this, because I have no idea what THE HELL Team Tennis is and why it’s played.  I always kind of thought it was an exhibition?  Like when Pete Sampras plays Roger Federer in front of the oil magnates in Dubai and they split the 1st two sets on purpose and then give 71% in the final set?  I guess, according to some light reading I just did that the players are actually trying to win in Team Tennis.  There is always an odd mixture of players on these teams.  I feel like you occasionally see Jim Courier playing doubles against Jim the club champion at the Port Authority Racket and Skeet Club.  Can you make a living playing Team Tennis?  Do people go watch it?  What the hell is a Kastle?  So many questions.  I’ve sidetracked myself.  So, what could possibly be a more embarrassing claim?  It would have to be something that is barely a sport.  Maybe the WWE claiming to have a Heavyweight Champion of the World?  I’m at a loss.  Nothing is more embarrassing than Team Tennis.  

Q:  Would you rather get a really good haircut and have to sit there for 40 minutes, or take your chances with a five minute special?  Assume they are the same price.  Nick D. Earlobe, Musket Smoke, Idaho.  

A:  As a kid I went to a pretty reputable hair place and there was also a period where I would not allow my hair to be washed in the sink, so while that did save me a couple minutes the process still easily took 30 minutes.  This is how long I thought a haircut took.  And, we’re talking guy haircuts here.  I’m pretty sure 40 minutes is practically a drive-thru experience at the salon for the ladies.  But, I really didn’t know it was possible to get my haircut in under 30 minutes until I went to my first butcher shop.  The longest part of that afternoon was me trying to explain I didn’t want my ear outlined like a Jack-O-Lantern and then POOF I was done.  A whirlwind of scissors and best guesses. Have I ever been pleased with this type of haircut?  Not really.  Generally, it takes a week or so for it to grow out and start looking a little less violent?  But there is something to be said for the efficiency.  No appointment.  No small talk. Having someone try to make conversation with me WHILE touching my head for 40 minutes?  That’s up there on a list of all-time nightmare scenarios.  And, I don’t go for the head massage, or the hot towelette, or the flirting, that doesn’t really do it for me.  I imagine at least 25% of all men want to be MORE THAN FRIENDS with their “stylist,” but not me.  This question all comes down to the quality of the haircut for me, and I’ve got to take the quick one in the end.  After a couple of weeks it’s going to look the same anyway, right?  RIGHT?

Q:  I just noticed that over at Grantland Russell Wilson is considered the second most valuable trade commodity in the NFL.  Any thoughts on this, and can we get a preview on your level of Russell Wilson hate for 2013?  Dan McGuire, Seattle, WA.

A:  You know right up until I got this question I had spent a long and peaceful off-season without Russell Wilson in my mind.  I was so haunted by that playoff game against the Falcons, sitting in that bar, watching what I assumed was a room full of Eagles’ fans swoon.  It was disgusting.  Go ahead and take a rooting interest, but try to at least keep a grip on a bit of integrity.  The good news is that with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia I think I can avoid an onslaught of Russell Wilson coverage.  Why talk Wilson when you can talk Matt Barkley vs. Nick Poles?  It’s the national people who will be obsessed with Wilson (and Griffin/Luck/Kaepernick) and hoping they can rebuild the monument that may have eroded a bit in the off-season.  One of the things that bothers me with Wilson is that the people who write about him are so satisfied with themselves for praising him, and fall head first for this “born leader charisma” horsebleep.  At least the article at Grantland focuses on Wilson as a football player.  That said, I think you have to be brain dead to list Wilson as the 2nd most valuable trading commodity in the NFL.  The list, has its odd moments, in my opinion.  Grantland also has him ranked at the 7th best Fantasy QB, which is a bit easier to stomach.  If I’m an NFL GM, assuming I can get any of these QBs back, Wilson is out the door: Rodgers/Luck/Griffin/Kaepernick/Ryan/Stafford and I’d think very hard about the veteran guys like Brady/Manning/Brees despite their contracts and small windows.  I think three great chances to win a Super Bowl might be better than having Russell Wilson for 10 years.  Then there are other players I’d consider, stop me when you’ve heard enough, JJ Watt, Megatron, AP, AJ Green.  I think that about covers it.  Guess that’s why I don’t write for Grantland.  I think Wilson is still going to torment me for a bit, before he gets figured out, dinged up and turns into what I’m going to call the poor man’s version of Don McNabb.  Burn.  

Q:  What if there was a car horn that instead of making the regular noise could utter phrases, like “Stop Texting,” or “You’re Driving is Mediocre.”  Honk F. Urhornee, Mustard Seed, IA.  

A:  That would be pretty funny.  I’m sure it’s not legal, because it would be too startling.  I know a horn is supposed to snap you to attention, but you are conditioned to hear that noise.  It alerts you, but at the same time–you know what it is.  OK, car horn, put down the phone, go through the green light.  That’s life.  If it was a loud voice–you might freak.  You’d panic, crush the accelerator and plow into a gully.  We couldn’t have that.  It’d probably also ramp up road rage.  Drivers already lose it when someone blows the horn at them–even if they are in the wrong.  I KNOW I’M NOT PAYING ATTENTION, but (expletive, expletive) you anyway.  When I hear a horn I think, Oh, they better NOT be honking at me.  My driving is PERFECTION.  I think we’re getting close to everything being hands free and at some point text-driving probably will no longer be a concern, just like no one cares anymore about having a place to tie up their horse outside the bank.  Of course, at that point, we’ll probably be onto a whole other set of driving concerns–people getting run over by whisper quiet hybrids–or something.  

 

What Are the Phillies Chances in the Putrid NL East?

The Engine is on the DL.

The Engine is on the DL.

Forget about the Wild-Card.  Forget about the 2nd Wild-Card.  The device that was supposed to open up the playoffs to many more baseball cities isn’t going to help the Phillies.  But they’re only 5.5 games out!  Doesn’t matter.  It’s all about who can be caught.  The Reds are 53-42.  If they play .500 the rest of the way, that puts them at about 87 wins.  To win 87 games the Phillies must go 39-27.  You might be able to talk yourself into that, but why would Cincinnati suddenly play .500 ball?  There’s a better chance they finish near their pace of 90 wins.  To get there, the Phillies need to go 42-24.  Now, the numbers are getting a bit troublesome.  

The Phillies don’t look to me to be a team who is going to win 86-90 games.  It took their best stretch of the season just to get back to .500.  With all the teams vying for the wild-card, you’d expect at least one or two to get hot and push the needed win total well into the upper 80s–at least.  The Phillies won’t sniff that level, but thanks to the worst division in baseball, there is a chance 85 (maybe 84? puke) wins might get a team into the post-season.  Could it happen?  It’s the Phillies’ only shot.  

NL East Tidbits:  

  • Cumulative (-97) run differential.  AL East? +164.
  • Home to the Marlins, who win 37% of their games.  
  • Home to Miami and Washington–the two Worst offenses in the NL
  • Home to the Phillies, worst bullpen ERA in the NL (4.39)
  • Since starting 13-2, the 1st place Braves are 41-39.  

How did we so badly forecast the NL East?  The Nationals were supposed to be a juggernaut.  The Braves had assembled the youngest, most dynamic outfield in baseball.  At least we pundits were right about the Marlins.  They do stink, and yet they went the entire month of June being the best team in the division.  Will the mediocrity continue?  Let’s take a look….

Atlanta:  54-41, 4.36 runs per game, 3.29 Team ERA.  

What’s gone right:  The Braves bullpen has been predictably dominant, Justin Upton carried them to a hot start, Freddie Freeman has picked up a lot of slack for slumping players and they hit homers.  

What’s gone wrong:  B.J. Upton (.177) has been a total disaster.  His brother has completely cooled off, there’s no true ace on the starting staff and the DL has been a popular landing spot for some big names.  

How they finish with 85 wins:  It’d take a collapse.  They’d finish 31-36 and even after cooling off, the Braves have been better than that.  One more arm going to the DL would hurt, but the more likely cause would be the Braves dying the long ball.  The Braves have a few guys like Dan Uggla (18 homers) who are contributing despite low batting averages and on-base percentages.  If the power numbers dry up, the Braves offense could go right in the tank.  

Washington:  48-47, 3.75 runs per game, 3.58 Team ERA.  

What’s gone right:  Not much.  The pitching has still been very good, but not as good as last year, when it was other-worldly.  Jordan Zimmermann leads a strong top-3 and Bryce Harper has shown flashes of superstardom when healthy.  

What’s gone wrong:  Adam LaRoche didn’t back up his career year.  Denard Span has been a disappointment in CF, and Dan Haren was a train wreck as the 5th starter.  

How they finish with 85 wins:  Status quo for the most part.  The Nationals are a bit like the 2010-11 Phillies with an even worse offense.  Gonzalez, Strasburg and Zimmermann will win their share, but to get to 88-90 wins the Nationals will have to score more runs.  I don’t see where the offense will come from.  

Philadelphia: 48-48, 3.86 runs per game, 4.03 ERA.  

What’s gone right:  Cliff Lee, Chase Utley knees have been healthy, Dom Brown emerged as an everyday player and prior to getting hurt, Ben Revere had settled in as a viable CF/leadoff option.  Not to mention, the numbers say the Phillies should be at least 3 or 4 games worse off, so perhaps some luck…

What’s gone wrong:  Ryan Howard can’t stay on the field (and is mostly ineffective when he does play), Cole Hamels was erratic for the 1st three months, and the injuries continue to mount: Ruiz, Halladay, Revere.  Let’s not forget the bullpen–which is terrible.  

How they finish with 85 wins:  The Phils would have to go 37-29, which isn’t outrageous, but they’d still need some bounces.  Primarily, they’d need a return to dominant starting pitching form.  Hamels must join Lee as an ace, Lannan and Kendrick must continue to pitch well and they might even need Doc to come back and contribute in Pettibone’s slot for the last month.  They’ll also need their bullpen to blow as few games as possible.  I just don’t see the offense,with Revere out and other gaping holes, carrying them when the next injury could be right around the corner.  

How it plays out:  

The Phillies looked dead to me a few weeks ago.  I honestly never saw Revere contributing at the level he was, Delmon Young getting hot and Lannan/Pettibone avoiding a weekly shelling.  So, they certainly out-performed expectations to get back to 48-48.  But, like I said, that hot streak just got them to the outskirts of the race.  Will they keep it up?  The early schedule isn’t favorable.  NY (vs. Wheeler and Harvey) and then St. Louis, Detroit, SF and Atlanta as they come out of the break.  That’s 15 games where independent of everything you’d probably take a 8-7 run, but that would leave the Phillies at just 1 game over .500 and suddenly there’s only 50 games left.  Not to mention the trade deadline falls in the middle of this stretch.  

I don’t think the Phillies will sell, barring a quick 2-7 run here.  Like I’ve outlined, the division is just too tantalizing. But, as I predicted at the outset of the season, I don’t think the Phillies quite have enough.  I don’t see an answer in the bullpen, I think 3B becomes a problem by September and John Mayberry Jr. won’t cut it as an everyday player.  The Nationals are dead in the water, but I think Atlanta can keep it together enough to get close to 90 wins and hold off the Phillies.  And, two teams out of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, LA are going to outplay the Phils down the stretch as well.  

 

The Open Championship

If History Is Any Indication, You'll Know the Guy Standing Here on Sunday.

If History Is Any Indication, You’ll Know the Guy Standing Here on Sunday.

I’ve spent the last several years trying to give the Open Championship its proper amount of respect.  I’ll try to avoid calling it The British Open, which isn’t the entirely semantic battle it seems, but more than that I’ll consider it at least on par with the Masters and the United States Open.  We all know the PGA, Glory’s Last Shot, has a long way to go and will probably never get there.

I can tell you what turned me off about the Open Championship as a young golf fan.  First off, I loathed the BBC coverage.  Where’s the ball?  Who knows, just cut to a wide shot of the green.  I didn’t understand the style of golf course and I wasn’t particularly fond of the list of winners.  Faldo, Ian Baker-Finch, Nick Price, Tom Lehman, Faldo again and again…these weren’t guys I was a fan of, and of course there was always that element of randomness.  Whether it be the weather, or that Todd Hamilton could raise the trophy, I think I always found the Open Championship a bit too quirky.

But, I’ve been coming around.  The TV coverage has been improved by leaps and bounds.  As to the style of the golf course–I’ve never seen a course in the United States look or play worse after removing the large majority of their trees.  The courses on the Open rota don’t suffer from such issues.  And, while holes and pot bunkers can sometimes boggle the mind the courses are never contrived or artificial.

What really changed my mind for good though, was the 2009 tournament at Turnberry where Tom Watson lost the playoff to Stewart Cink.  That result will forever be in my top-5 most disappointing finishes to a sporting event and my casual distaste for Stewart Cink grew into a searing hatred, but it was such a captivating week of golf.  If Watson had won, I don’t know if it could have been properly framed.  That he nearly won was a big enough story and what it showed me was that the Open Championship could often be the fairest test.

Which brings us to Muirfield, which could be called the truest of all Open tests and perhaps the greatest course in the World for identifying great champions.  Els, Faldo, Faldo, Watson, Trevino, Nicklaus, Player.  Those are the last seven winners at Muirfield.  It doesn’t feel like a coincidence that only Hall of Famers win at Muirfield.  The course is respected to the point of reverence.  Jack Nicklaus called his own course Muirfield Village.  Nick Faldo is kinda, sorta coming out of retirement this week to take a final lap around the course where he won two Open Championships.  So, while golf tournaments are more wide open than they’ve ever been, I’d expect plenty of recognizable names atop the leaderboard.  And, if a first-timer ends up with the trophy?  They could be headed to the Hall of Fame–the roster of champions would back that up…

A Quick Preview

The Best Pairings:

Sir Nick Faldo, Tom Watson and Fred Couples:  The best Open players of two generations and Fred who won last year’s Senior Open Championship.  Could the Englishman be the least popular one in the group?

Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker and Ernie Els:  Players very rarely repeat at Majors, but I like Ernie’s chances this week. Brandt Snedeker has been MIA since he had to take time off after his torrid start.

Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama:  The adjective for the year for Rory has been, “lost.”  I don’t see him finding anything this week, maybe if they were at St. Andrews.  Phil won last week in Scotland and in the most Phil utterance ever, has declared he’s finally figured out how to putt in the U.K.  Only took Pelz and him 20 years to figure it out.

Russell Henley, Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick: Spieth just became the first teenager to win on tour in 80 years. He makes new blood Henley look like a 29-year old playing AAA.  I’m not sure Spieth can transition off the high of a win and to links golf fast enough, but expect him to ride a huge wave of confidence for the rest of the year.  Fitzpatrick is an 18-year old qualifier.

Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel:  I’m about two years away from giving up on Sergio and about two tournaments away from giving up on Westwood.  I still think the Open is Sergio’s best shot where a foul week of conditions could accentuate his ball-striking.

Rickie Fowler, Matteo Manassero, Hunter Mahan:  I like Fowler’s and Manassero’s chances this week.  Fowler is a legitimate threat in the wind.  As usual, I do not like Mahan’s chances.

Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen:  Tiger has been carting around Lindsey Vonn this week like they’re playing a 9-hole modified shamble before the club’s bridge championship.  I don’t think he’s got a shot.  McDowell let me down at the US Open, and I never know about Louis’ form.  Where does this guy play?

The Forecast:

I don’t know if this is good or bad news, but the weather is supposed to be fantastic this week for the tournament. Warm, and no outrageous wind conditions.  No rain either, which I assume could always change.  The course should be nice and firm, but I’d expect good scores especially early in the week.

The Definitive, Yet Arbitrary Top-10:  Coming off a very respectable US Open Showing.

  1. Phil Mickelson
  2. Ernie Els
  3. Branden Grace
  4. Rickie Fowler
  5. Henrik Stenson
  6. Jason Day
  7. Matteo Manassero
  8. Sergio Garcia
  9. Shane Lowry
  10. Matt Kuchar

143.  Todd Hamilton

 

So, yes, I’m picking Phil back-to-back.  I got so close last time that I think I might actually have it this time around.  If I’m judging Phil’s crazy eyes right, and I like to think I am, I feel like he’s rebounded from what happened at Merion. He’s in full-smile, family mode right now.  He’s not going to have to fight the conditions.  I really think this might be his best shot at a Claret Jug.  And, I had a hell of time coming up with true dark horses this week.  I guess I’m just caught up in Muirfield’s A-List mystique.

 

The Mailbag: A Cure For Common Heat Stroke.

This Guy's Got a Long Way to Go.

This Guy’s Got a Long Way to Go.

I was at Panera the other day.  I’m there a bit.  More than I’d like considering I don’t especially like Panera.  But, they crank out food quickly and I can do my whole, “Hey it’s a salad routine.”  For caloric supplement, I sometimes get a chocolate chip cookie.  Again, the cookies aren’t great, but if they undercook them the right amount–they hit the spot in a pinch.  So, I go through my usual order and add the cookie on and the cashier says to me, “The chocolate chip cookies are really good for some reason.”  It’s one of the most confusing things I’ve ever heard from a cashier.  Did he mean that particular day?  Did he not understand why cookies are usually good (butter/sugar/chocolate)?  Did he have some type of anxiety disorder where he spits out a non sequitor?  I feared he was just making small talk, like his manager probably implored him to do.  TALK ABOUT THE PURCHASE.  It makes the customer feel welcome, or some such horse bleep.  So, here’s this poor kid trying to think of 100 different things to say to people ordering soup and salads.  For me, he spun the wheel and landed on, “the chocolate chip cookies are good for some reason.”  I said, “Let me know if you figure it out.”  The mailbag….

Q:  Are Chinese restaurants the easiest restaurants to name?  Seems like just about any combination of words will do.  Peter Franklin Chang, Humble, TX

A:  I imagine pizza places are up there as well.  Just throw someone’s name on the board.  Maybe they’re Italian, maybe they’re Greek–I DON’T KNOW.  I can tell you I drove by a place the other day and it was called A1 CHINA.  The sign was all caps, that’s not my emphasis.  Was this the Chinese headquarters for the steak sauce?  I’m pretty sure that if you called a place, A1 America–not a soul would go there.  You’d get less business than Babu Bhatt.  So, I think in that sense, it probably is easy for Chinese restaurant owners to name their places.  There is less pressure.  You don’t have to be fancy, or cute, or ironic, you can just throw a couple of words together and let the profits roll in.  Han Dynasty?  Sure.  China King?  Absolutely.  The other thing at work here is that Chinese food is also like pizza in the sense that people would buy it out of the trunk of a Dodge if they thought it was the best Chinese food around.  The constant pursuit for the best pizza, or best Chinese has people trying any place–regardless of the name.  And then if you find a good place, it’s all word of mouth.  If someone told me that the best pizza they’ve ever had was from Ecoli Brothers, you can bet your sweet ass I would try it.  The more working class the cuisine, the less people will be concerned about name dropping your restaurant.  So, Chinese, Diners, Pizza–just call it whatever.  

Q:  When is it OK to turn down a request to share food or drink?  You know that anyone who asks for something has already assumed you’re going to say yes.  Doesn’t this put you in a tight spot?  World B. Free Sample, Chester, PA

A:  I’m not much of a food sharer.  If I have some beers or drink around, you are always welcome, but my general rule on food is: “I’m going to order what I want to eat.  You should do the same.”  The only exception is, if the person asks before hand.  If they say, “Can I have a wing if you get an order?” Something like that at least shows the courtesy of allowing you to change and/or adjust your order.  Other brains work differently.  Some people just don’t value food as such a personal commodity.  They want to sample off everyone’s plate.  Other people are just mooches.  They’ll grub a free snack any time they can get one.  They’re the kid in college who magically appeared every time you had something delivered.  I knew a classic mooch in college.  Our room was always fairly well stocked and all 10 of this kid’s favorite sentences started with, “Can I get a…”  Well, once I had ventured to Wawa to get some soft pretzels.  This was when Wawa’s soft pretzels were still good and you had to drive about 15 minutes to get to one in Lancaster.  So–big commitment.  We get back, I’m eating the pretzels, and this kid asks for a piece.  I don’t want to give it to him, but I fold.  He then proceeds to eat the knot out of my pretzel.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  It’d be like someone coming over and cutting the center out of a tray of brownies.  I was livid.  He thought I was joking around, and I wasn’t.  AT ALL.  The audacity.  Anyway, that incident led to us posting a list of all his “mooches,” and assigning a dollar value to them.  A tab, if you will.  It may have slightly curbed his impulse to “share.”  

Q:  Do you think it’s uncomfortable for men to get a lesson from a woman in an athletic pursuit?  A woman giving a golf lesson for example?  Dolores “Butch” Harman, Tampa, FL.

A:  I’m sure it would be for a lot of men.  The instructor/student relationship is almost like doctor/patient, and I think in that case a lot of people like to gravitate toward a doctor of the same sex.  And, when it comes to sport instruction, I think it’d almost be like a guy going to a female about, I don’t know…potency issues?  It’s hard enough to admit you need help, but even harder to admit what would be perceived as a lack of masculinity to a woman.  I’ve taken the comparison a BIT far there, but there is certainly a stigma to women golf instructors.  They have it tough.  Your average male hacker would probably willingly take instruction from a handful on women on the LPGA Tour, and that’s about it.  And at the same time the man you are taking lessons from might struggle to break 85.  I’m afraid that most men who take golf or tennis lessons from a woman at this point, probably are attracted to the teacher on some level.  They think, she’ll be teaching the me the backhand, and one thing will lead to another and then IT’S ON.  More men should probably be open to female instruction on the golf course, because what teaching golf really requires is an eye for spotting people’s mistakes–not a great game in your own right.  But, even on that level, a lot of women players have great tempo, are crazy accurate, and have good short games–there is plenty to learn.  

Q: Is being a photographer the new being funny?  What I mean is, pretty much everyone thinks they’re funny.  But now with camera phone and all these sweet apps, everyone is thinking they need to share it with the world every time they snap a shot of a cloud.  Sepia Tohnes, Media, PA.

A:  Yes, I think most people would at least say they have a good sense of humor.  Even if they don’t consider themselves funny, they certainly KNOW what is funny and how to laugh.  You can really derail someone’s self-esteem if you tell them they aren’t funny.  Typical reaction, “ME?  I’m not funny?”  Then they’ll say that you aren’t funny.  Then they’ll attack something that you think is funny.  “Oh, and by the way, Caddyshack is STUPID.”  It can get very ugly.  The photography thing is an interesting comparison.  It’s gotten a lot easier to take a picture over the last few years, and it’s been getting progressively easier since the camera was invented.  So, I actually think there are more people out there taking better pictures, because you don’t have to worry about lighting or…that’s the only real photography term I’m aware of.  MIND THE LIGHTING.  What I do agree with is that people want way too much credit for their photos.  They go to some beautiful beach, whip out the iPhone, apply some horsebleep “filter,” to the shot and then they post it online and expect to be lauded for their crazy skills.   I think I’d be most concerned if I was a real photographer.  It’s got to be getting competitive out there.  I think a good dozen people I went to high school with are now photographers.  I’m serious.  That seems like a lot.  I’d get into this more, but I’ve got to run down to the old railroad tracks and take some sweet black and whites.  

Q:  If all your friends suddenly started wearing white jeans, would you jump on board?  Denny Blanco, Athens, GA.

A:  Are my friends pop stars?  Am I eleven years old?  Because if they aren’t and I’m at my current adult age, I don’t really see it happening.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’m no longer going to let denim run my life.  I think I was in college the last time I was self-conscious of my jean style.  This was in the era of bleached thighs?  I’m not sure what else to call it.  I got this pair of jeans and they were fine, but when I got them home and was thinking about wearing them in public I was like, “OH MY GOD, are they too dark?”  That’s really no way to live.  So, after battling tight rolling, fake rips, various washes, etc–I’m done.  I don’t care if someone at GQ says I will look thinner if my jeans fit like leg socks.  I don’t care if the entire world starts wearing white jeans.  I’m washing my hands of it.  And, could there be a worse color for pants, honestly?  I’ve witnessed the white pant trend in golf first hand.  It’s great until you get to the fourth hole and you’ve got stains on the bottoms, your pockets are all marked up from tees, etc.  If I have to start washing my pants after each wear–things are going to get ugly.  

 

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.