The Phillies are Going to Win the NL East This Year

Alright, that might be a bit of a stretch, but I am about as excited as one can be for a rebuilding baseball team.

I can’t pretend like I’m some sort of expert on this current team. With working a night shift and not getting cable, plus the Phillies being lousy I haven’t had much time or reason to fit the Phils into my sports schedule the last two years. I’m going to the home opener on the 11th and I imagine that will be my introduction to more than half of the team.

However, it’s that unfamiliarity, or newness rather, that has me most interested. It’s a totally rebuilt farm system which offers hope that contention isn’t too far off into the distant future. The fans have clamored for a regime change and organizational reboot for several years now and we finally have it.

It wasn’t just that the Phillies sucked the last couple of years, they were stuck in the past with burdensome contracts tied to players who fans hated (Papelbon), or just couldn’t produce anymore (Utley & Rollins.) Their organizational mindset of not fully embracing analytics was widely mocked throughout baseball and the national and local media.

With the exception of Ryan Howard and Chooch, this is an entirely new regime. Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail are the new front office braintrust, secured with the backing of John Middleton, long a faceless owner who chose to remain behind the scenes and let David Montgomery be the public face of ownership. Now, although I know next to nothing about him other than he’s got some serious cash, I can tell he wants to get back to the days of contention, and consecutive game sellout streaks that stretch well into the hundreds.

The fact that the Phillies had the most successful run in franchise history just a few short years ago, is a bit part of why I think this rebuild will be much different than the Sixers. They watched the money come flowing in when their team of mostly homegrown talent went on five consecutive thrilling postseason runs. Surely ownership didn’t expect it to go south as badly as it did, which is why Middleton probably decided to step up and become the prominent member of ownership. There’s no way after tasting success like the Phillies had, ownership would willing to sink as low as the Sixers are at right now. They have more respect for themselves than that.

And unlike the Sixers which are still years away from being able to put together a real core group of talent, the Phillies have theirs mostly in place. Maikel Franco, a power-hitting third basemen the organization has been searching for since Scott Rolen. J.P. Crawford, the elite shortstop that, if everything goes according to plan, challenge’s J-Roll, for best shortstop in Phillies history. It’s also too easy too see Nick Williams, and Jorge Alfaro, locking down an outfield spot and catcher for the next decade respectively.

Aaron Nola, Jake Thompson and Jared Eickoff should comprise the majority of a solid rotation. Add in a potential ace with the No.1 overall pick in June and now we’re talking.

The bullpen? Yeah, Ken Giles would’ve been nice to keep around, but the quantity and quality of prospects he brought in return is more important. I have no idea who currently comprises the Phillies bullpen and I’m fairly certain it won’t matter this year.

For the first time since the Phillies had four aces and a lineup full of all-stars and MVP candidates, I’m excited for baseball. I likely won’t watch more than 10 games this year in full and I can’t name the starting outfielders or who’s the first bat off the bench. There will not be a postseason run this year in Philadelphia, nor next year most likely. But there is finally a sense of optimism.

 

Other random Phillies and baseball musings:

  • Would love to see Howard put together a semblance of a decent year so the Phillies could get a decent prospect in return. After the last few miserable years and all the money he was paid, can’t we at least get something in return? He’s going to hit mainly righties in a platoon with Darin Ruf. Some AL team will call if he puts up ok numbers. Plus, I kinda want to see him be productive again, however unlikely that seems. When the Phillies were elite, he wasn’t their best player, but he could certainly be the most awe-inspiring with the power binges he would go on.
  • I’m really pumped for Franco. Would love to seem him become a 30-homer, 100 RBI stud.
  • Glad Pete Mackanin got an extension. He seems like the right guy to manage this young clubhouse and get them to play hard, if the second half of last year and spring training was any indication.
  • Wish I knew when the Phillies were going to bring up Crawford. If it’s a weekend game at home, I’ll but tickets today. In the meantime, I’ll definitely
  • I’m sorry, but MLB butchered their Opening Day this year with two early games on a Sunday. I simply could not care less. I’ll tune in a bit to the World Series rematch between the Royals and Mets, but I was oblivious to the two early games as most of the country probably was.

Let’s make some other random MLB predictions.

NL Champion: Giants over Mets

AL Champion: Blue Jays over Angels

World Series Champion: Giants It’s an even year. You kinda have to pick them.

NL Cy Young: Jacob DeGrom

Al Cy Young: Sonny Gray

NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt

AL MVP: Mike Trout

 

 

 

 

 

Penn State Recruiting Thoughts

College football recruiting is my guilty pleasure.

Ever since James Franklin was hired, and started reeling in top-notch prospects that usually did not choose Penn State, I was hooked. It’s basically year-round free agency and it culminated officially on Wednesday, Feb.3, National Signing Day.

It’s the third recruiting class for Franklin and Co. at Penn State since he was hired and it’s a pretty good one. As far as meaningless grades go, I’d give it a B.

There’s five-star running back Miles Sanders, who when combined with sophomore Saquan Barkley and redshirt freshman Andre Robinson, gives Penn State arguably the most talented backfield of my lifetime.

Another significant influx of talent on the offensive line will help pave the way for Barkley, Sanders, Robinson and others over the next three to four years. And hopefully keep the quarterback, whoever that is, upright longer than Christian Hackenberg. Five-star Michel Menet and four-star Connor McGovern seem like two of the safest bets for steady contribution in the entire class.

Five-star defensive end Shane Simmons should bring needed pass rush help to a defensive line losing three very good starters. Simmons, along with Sanders, both committed in July 2014 and for Franklin and Co. to hang on to them all the way through February 2016 is impressive.

But yet, it could have been much better.

Penn State had several key commitments including two defensive tackles, arguably the team’s biggest need area right now. Losing Karamo Dioboute, a Philly kid, was particularly hard since that is supposed to be a layup for Penn State.

Three of the decommitments flipped to Michigan and a top target for quite some time, Khaleke Hudson chose the Wolverines as well. By several accounts it seems like he was ready to pledge to Penn State back in the fall or summer, but do to a number of commits in the fold, plus uncertainty as to what position he could play were reasons Penn State may have told him they couldn’t take his commitment.

Long story short, space eventually opened up, Penn State would’ve gladly taken Hudson, but he decided to head to Ann Arbor. Personally that stinks. If you offer a kid, just take his commitment. Yeah, he could back out, but it’s more likely he doesn’t. Offering a kid a scholarship but then not allowing him to commit,

At his introductory press conference in January 2014, Franklin said he would “Dominate the State” and to a large degree he’s done that.

Penn State had seven of the top 10 in 2015 and 9 of the top 15 per 247sports. This year they finished with three in the top 10 after losing safety Andrew Pryts and Dioubate. In fact, they only had four in the top 20. In the current 247 rankings for 2017, two of the top five players in Pennsylvania are committed elsewhere.

Penn State still was able to fill out the class with solid recruits, but none of the four or five star variety. And I’m ok with that. I like getting prospects who are under recruited and have a chip on their shoulder. I also want to see how this coaching staff develops lower rated prospects. We know they can recruit. But how well can they coach and develop players is a major question every Penn State football fans frequently asks.

Recruiting is certainly frustrating, like when Michigan plunders four Penn State commits or targets in a week’s span, Or just when a recruit recommits in general. It’s absurd that I actually care about where a high schooler wants to play football as it’s arguably the most important decision of their young career.

There’s probably merits to an early signing period, but I don’t have there recruiting acumen to delve into the pros and cons. Watching kids flip or commit too early just shouldn’t happen as frequently as it does. I put most of that blame on the college football landscape and the big money donors at some schools who, ahem, can influence Coaches have to flout elite signing classes as early as possible, just like they have to strive for an ideal win-loss record.

To his credit, Franklin has the program off to another great start on the recruiting trail for the 2017 and 2018 classes. But February 2017 and 2018 are a long way away. There will of course be flips and decommitments as there are every year, but hopefully Penn State can win enough games and maybe pull off a huge upset that will reduce the amount of commits that choose to look elsewhere.

Recruiting is important, and I’ll continue to monitor it when there are substantial recruiting events for Penn State, like junior day or the Blue-White game. But most importantly, I’ll be keeping a close eye on how this revamped coaching staff tries to take this rebuilding program to the next level.

Other Penn State thoughts since the season ended:

* Thank you, Christian Hackenberg and best of luck in the NFL. Obviously the three years here could have been better, but many unfortunately variables were working against him. He’ll go down as one of the best quarterbacks Penn State has ever had and I will enjoy watching him. I certainly wish he had attained more success, but maybe it awaits him in the NFL.

*The Joe Moorhead hire is an intriguing one and the outside-the-box type hire needed to reinvigorate the offensive side of the ball after two years of just flat-out bad offense. It will be interesting to see it translate from the FCS to the Big Ten, and it surely will take some getting used too. It will probably not be Oregon-like right out of the gate or at all in this season but I appreciate James Franklin’s ability to think differently. Hiring a respected offensive mind who also has head coaching experience can only benefit the program.

* People leave for other job opportunities all the time. That’s just the way life is. I wasn’t mad at Silas Redd when he left when the scandal hit and I didn’t dislike Bill O’Brien for heading to the NFL. But Bob Shoop leaving for Tennessee, a so-so program in the SEC just really rankled me. Here’s a guy who’s from Oakmont, PA, who flirted with leaving Penn State last year only to get a nice salary bump and pledge allegiance to the school right after the new contract. But one year later he now decides to take a lateral move for more money. I just don’t get it, but obviously stuff happened behind the scenes. I don’t care how good of a coordinator he is, I won’t miss him.

I didn’t see much of the TaxSlayer Bowl, but from the little I did see and from what I read about afterwards, I am cautiously optimistic for the Trace McSorley era. The kid just seems like a gamer who can make plays running or passing, which is presumably what this new offense will require.

My Super Bowl 50 Prediction

Thank you football Gods for another fun, thrilling and often exasperating(because of the Eagles) NFL season. But before we settle in for the long winter/spring/early summer nap of the NFL offseason, can you bestow upon us one more enjoyable game? Nothing stinks more than a Super Bowl blowout.

Will we get a classic this Sunday?  I sure hope so. I also hope to finish the year on a three-game winning streak after my sensational conference championship Sunday when I went 2-0.

Season total: 100-114-7

The Pick: Broncos +5.5 The Denver Broncos will be crowned Super Bowl 50 champions in a scrappy, ugly and old school football-type of affair. These two defenses are too good for an offensive explosion. I could see something like 17-13 Denver. It’s been a while since there’s been a really low-scoring Super Bowl. Giants-Patriots (the first one) was the lowest scoring game of the past decade, with the Giants winning 17-14.

This has been the year of Cam and I should absolutely not pick against him. The Panthers I believe are the better overall team.

But is Peyton Manning really going to blow this last chance? I mean, I never thought he’d be back here after the loss to Seattle two years ago, and I definitely didn’t think so in Week 10. Cam Newton vs Denver’s defense is a pretty fair fight and a matchup I can’t wait to see unfold. But Peyton vs Carolina’s defense? On paper this does not look good at all. Yet, Manning was efficient enough in the AFC Championship game and I certainly think he can repeat that performance in the warm conditions of Santa Clara and the benefit of extra rest.

I think if Denver can score some defensive or special teams touchdowns, this will be their day. Although if Carolina gets out to a fast start, I don’t see them choking away a big lead. The first score of the game in this one will be extra crucial.

I don’t bet on point spreads but I could certainly be coaxed into laying down a few dollars on the prop bets, which get more hilarious and in some cases extreme(will an earthquake occur??) each year.

Prop bets: Heads/Tails   HEADS

Team to win the coin toss: Broncos

National Anthem: Under

Team to score first: Broncos

Highest scoring quarter: 2nd

 

NFL Conference Championship Game Selections

After a undefeated wild card round, I stumbled to a 1-3 record after the crazy divisional round games. With only three football games left, sigh, I’m going to do my best to finish 3-0 against the spread.

One problem: I can’t quite get a read on these conference title games.

I said heading into the playoffs that I thought Arizona would win the Super Bowl. Now, I’m really second-guessing that selection after watching the Cards struggle last week. Do I really want to pick against Cam Newton in the season of Cam?

For Brady-Manning 17, I’m looking forward to this game more than the NFC tilt, since this is likely the last time these quarterback titans face off on the same field. Even though Manning isn’t the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if he conjures up one last batch of arm strength and pinpoint accuracy to beat Brady.

Season total: 98-114-7

Here are my NFC and AFC conference championship picks:

Cardinals at Panthers  The Pick: Panthers -3  As much as I like this Cardinals team, I feel like they are different on the road. I believe Carolina is the same home or away, but with the home field advantage and the MVP, I’m going to side with the Panthers here. Plus Carson Palmer was very, very shaky last week. And the Cardinals gave up two hail marys on the same drive. The one thing about the Panthers I worry about is their propensity to allow teams back in the game. I could totally see them blowing a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter.

Patriots at Broncos:  The Pick: Broncos +3.5  I like Broncos to win outright and advance to Super Bowl 50. I picked against the Patriots last week and it worked so well I’m stupid enough to do it again. This is going to be a cop-out, I know the Pats are the better team, but I just think Denver gets enough lucky breaks to win. I think there’s one or two random defense or special teams scores for them to win. I also think fate is aligning for Peyton Manning to get one more Super Bowl appearance.

So that’s it. Panthers Broncos in Super Bowl 50. I hope you enjoyed the scientific and analytical information I brought. Oh and congratulations to the Patriots and Cardinals who have already won their games today since I picked against them.

One more quick item. I want to rank the possible Super Bowl matchups in terms of watchability:

  1. Cardinals – Pats
  2. Panthers – Pats
  3. Panthers Broncos
  4. Cardinals Broncos

 

The Doug Pederson Hire is…

Just ok.

Nothing more, nothing less. He certainly wasn’t one of the first names that came to mind when Jeffrey Lurie released Chip Kelly. I’m not going to lambaste the hire, and I’m certainly not going to expect great things either. After putting all my faith in supposed genius Chip Kelly only to watch him fail and get shipped out of town abruptly, I’m not totally opposed to going outside the box with a boring and unexciting name.

Only Doug Pederson isn’t really an outside the box hire. He’s an Andy Reid disciple. Our we setting ourselves up for more of the same from what we got from 1999-2012? Granted a lot of playoff seasons were in there, but no championships. Doug Pederson’s ceiling feels like five seasons with one or two trips to the playoffs mixed in. It just doesn’t scream a decade plus of championship-level football. But then again, Andy Reid’s hire didn’t either, and I think that’s the one aspect of this that’s giving Eagles fans reasons to be optimistic.

Andy Reid is a good coach to learn from no question and Pederson has years of playing experience and time spent around some of the most successful people in the sport. He knows what it takes to be a player in this league and what a successful locker room should look like.

But then again, why does it appear like he was the Eagles third choice? When are other reports suggesting that Ben McAdoo and Tom Couglin were going to be named Eagles head coach if the Birds had worked something out. Clearly the Eagles like Pederson, but they have reservations. This is going to be a fascinating opening presser and there’s going to be plenty of other tough questions and topics for Lurie to dance around.

Why didn’t they interview with other candidates with other teams? The only outside candidates they spoke with besides Pederson were Adam Gase, McAdoo and Coughlin? Why not try Sean McDermott or Josh McDaniels or Hue Jackson?

Why did Pederson only receive one head coaching interview?

What is Howie Roseman’s roll now? If he’s in charge of personnel and making the hire, why isn’t he allowed to answer questions at the press conference?

It was a very puzzling search for a new head coach and you just have to wonder if the team was exhaustive and thorough enough in vetting possible choices. It’s clear Lurie was burned by Chip. Now is he forsaking upside to find someone too familiar or less controlling? When looking for a new head coach, it’s certainly smart to find elements of what worked in the past. But to expect Reid-like success from Pederson, to strike gold twice, is unrealistic.

Overall I have my doubts about the Pederson hire, but I’m certainly going to give him a chance. Welcome back to Philadelphia Doug, and good luck.

NFL Divisional Round Selections


Last week could have been one of my best football weekends ever. Not only did I pick all four Wild Card games correctly, bringing my seasonal total to 97-111-7, but I picked my best daily fantasy team ever. While I walked away with no money (thanks DeSean), I still finished very well considering I only had one entry and there were 17,000-plus entries involved in the DraftKings contests.

Let’s see if I can pull off a similarly good weekend for the NFL’s best weekend of the year: the Divisional Round.

Chiefs at Patriots: The Pick: Chiefs +5  I really do like the Chiefs outright and not just because the Eagles for and present head coaches are involved. I think their pass rush causes problems for the Patriots makeshift offensive line and the opportunistic defense makes just one or two big plays. As I type this, it’s murky as to whether or not Gronk is playing. Tom Brady is playing with an ankle that might or might not be injured and has Julian Edelman back for the first time since November. Still, the Pats haven’t looked right and I’m not sure getting several key cogs back is going to make them look like that dominant team that cruised through the season until mid-November.

The Chiefs don’t scare you offensively, and Jeremy Maclin being limited is certainly troublesome. I know it’s stupid to pick against Brady and Belichick. But I don’t care. I’m taking the Chiefs.

Packers at Cardinals The Pick: Cardinals -7.5 I’m still convinced the Cardinals are the league’s best team and I’m not totally convinced Green Bay is back. A win over the lowly Redskins just doesn’t cut it for me. This one will be closer than the Week 16 blowout, though.

Seahawks at Panthers The Pick: Panthers -2.5  I’m sticking with the MVP in this one. The Panthers were listed as underdogs earlier in the week, which surely raised some eyebrows in that locker room. While the weather will be much better for Seattle this week, it’s another cross country trip against a well rested Panthers squad. Missing Bene Benwikere and Charles Tillman, will be a tough hurdle for the Panthers to overcome, but I still think that defense is good enough.

This game should go one of two ways. A high-scoring affair feature big days from two of the best quarterbacks in the league, or a defensive struggle. I’m actually going to opt for the former as Cam shreds the Seattle defense with his arm and legs.

Steelers at Broncos: The Pick: Broncos -7.5 An injured Ben Roethlisberger and no Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams? Sorry, I just don’t see how Pittsburgh scraps enough points together to win this one.

 

 

NFL Wild Card Weekend Selections

Hello and welcome to the start of the NFL playoffs!! Before I make the selections, yes I skipped Weeks 16 & 17 due to the holidays and being under the weather. No, I don’t feel bad.

This is a really strange yet intriguing opening round of the postseason, and is example 4,890 while you shouldn’t wager on sports games (but you should keep playing daily fantasy sports because there’s no way you lose playing in those contests).

I kind of want to pick all four road teams just because they all have the experienced quarterbacks. But one of these home teams is going to win right? I guess we will find out.

Season total minus two weeks and a handful of games:93-111-7 

Chiefs at Texans  The Pick: Chiefs -3.5  I feel like the Texans have an ownership stake in the first time slot of wild-card weekend. Unfortunately, the Bengals won’t be coming to town this week. Andy’s big red machine won’t slow down this week. Plus, I feel like if the Chiefs can take away DeAndre Hopkins, Houston has little chance of scoring. Don’t screw this up, Andy.

Steelers at Bengals The Pick: Bengals +3  Hardest game for me to pick. The Steelers are missing their starting running back for the second straight postseason. But the Bengals won’t have Andy Dalton. I’ll take the Bengals, since I just can’t trust which Pittsburgh team will show up.

Seahawks at Vikings The Pick: Vikings +5.5 I think Seattle wins a nail biter here in the arctic cold of Minnesota. I think the cold weather affects both teams, but Seattle contains Adrian Peterson enough to make Teddy Bridgewater have to try to make more throws. I don’t like his chances.

Packers at Redskins The Pick: Packers +1  This is the one that I had to think about the least. I refuse to bet against Aaron Rodgers. The end.