Greek’s Picks – NL East

This is by far my favorite time of the year when Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training.   Baseball (and later Softball) was the sport I played as a young man and there is nothing like knowing that just about every day there is a game to watch.

Today starts a six part series where I will pick each of Baseball’s divisions beginning today with the National League East.  Here is the remaining schedule for the series:

Friday – NL Central

Monday – NL West

Tuesday – AL East

Wednesday – AL Central

Thursday – AL West

So with that, here are my picks for the National League East:

1. Philadelphia Phillies – Barring any major injuries or a rash of subpar seasons by Howard, Utley, Ibanez , etc how can you not pick this team to not only repeat in the East but possibly to win the National League Pennant? Say what you want about Amaro trading Cliff Lee, but Halladay was the pitcher the Phillies wanted last year and now they have him.  He takes alot of pressure off Cole Hamels which should allow him to get back to the 2008 form.  Joe Blanton is simply a guy who eats innings and wins games.  My one issue is the bullpen – Lidge can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year but until he shows that he can close out close games fans will hold their collective breath. Polanco gives the Phillies a solid defensive third baseman as well as a contact hitter that can hit anywhere in the lineup.  I’d like to see him hit second, but we’ll see.  The Phillies bench is a little thin, but this is a team of regular everyday players much like the mid 1970′s teams and they don’t take many days off so the Phils simply don’t need a great bench.  Dobbs should be healthy this year.   Ross Gload gives the Phillies another solid lefty off the bench as he was one of the top pinch hitters in the NL last year for Florida.  Brian Schneider is a veteran game caller who can also stop the running game.   It will be interesting to see how the fifth starter situation goes with Kendrick, Moyer and Bastardo. 

2. Atlanta Braves – This will be the final curtain call on the Bobby Cox show, the longest running manager tenure in the NL since Tommy LaSorda with the Dodgers.  I’ve never been a big fan of him (just one World Series win to go with all those division championships), but his steady hand kept the Braves winning despite all the player changes from 1991-2005.  The Braves are an improved team, but they have their question marks.  Derek Lowe signed a big contract and saw his era jump about a run from 2008.  Can Tommy Hanson continue where he left off last season? How much will the Braves miss Javier Vasquez and will Melky Cabrera fill the center field hold? The Braves brought in Troy Glaus to play 1b – Glaus missed all but 14 games last season.   Billy Wagner will close for the Braves, and he looked good in Boston once he came back last year.  It will be interesting to see if he can hold up for a full season.   Martin Prado goes from super sub to starting second baseman as the Braves let Kelly Johnson go over to Arizona.   The Braves could make some noise, but I don’t think they have what it takes to unseat the defending champions.

3. Florida Marlins – The Marlins always seem to hang in there.  They have some great young talent with Ramirez, 2009 Rookie Of The Year Chris Coghlin and Dan Uggla.  They were able to lock up Josh Johnson and hope that Anibel Sanchez can finally put together a full healthy season.  Cody Ross is a tough and underrated outfielder.  The guy to watch here is Cameron Maybin.  Once a top prospect, Maybin came up short last year after starting the year as their centerfielder.  If he blossoms like many think he can the Marlins could be especially tough not just this year, but for years to come.  As it stands the Marlins could overtake the Braves for second but unless alot of things go right that’s about as high as they can go.

4. Washington Nationals – Yup, I’m picking the Nationals to finish out of last place.  Jim Riggleman had this team playing well towards the end of last season and as much as I don’t blame Manny Acta for the Nationals problems, sometimes players just tune a manager out after a while.  The Nationals were active in the off-season, bringing in Jason Marquis and although he’s not an ace, he is a guy who wins games and pitches alot of innings.  He also has played on playoff teams in every year of the previous decade with the Braves, Cardinals, Cubs and last year the Rockies.  Adam Kennedy was brought in to play 2b, and he had a nice season last year after a terrible 2008.  Ryan Zimmerman had a bust out season last year and Adam Dunn paid dividends with his tremendous power.   The Nats also got a steal by obtaining Nyjer Morgan from Pittsburgh to play centerfield.   The guy to watch here is Elijah Dukes – he had a nice season in 2008 but took a step backwards last year.  He has alot of talent, and a cannon arm in the outfield. 

5. New York Mets – My how the mighty have fallen.  Just one game away from the World Series in 2006, the Mets have fallen fast since blowing the NL East down the stretch in 2007.   Last year just about every key contributor was on the DL, and the Mets will be without Carlos Beltran when the season starts.  Jason Bay was acquired as a free agent, but the Mets need more help than Bay can provide.  David Wright had a big time power shortage after hitting a career high 33 homers in 2008, and the Mets really missed Jose Reyes setting the table last year.  First base and catcher are still huge holes for this team as Tatis, Murphy and Jacobs will compete to replace Carlos Delgado and catcher was so bad that they brought in Rod Barajas and about 5 other guys on minor league deals to try to fill the position.  Their pitching isn’t much better.  Santana is Santana, but who will step up behind him? John Maine and Mike Pelfrey both have the talent but haven’t broken through yet.  Oliver Perez has a huge contract and plenty of talent but lacks the makeup to become the pitcher we saw in Pittsburgh back in 2004.   If Jerry Manuel isn’t fired midway through the season he certainly won’t be back in 2011.



Is Temple the real deal?

Just how good is Temple?

That is a question many around the country will be thinking over in the coming weeks when the NCAA brackets are revealed and the Owls find themselves favored for at least a round.

Those who wonder how good Temple is might want to take a look at the Owls’ game tonight with Dayton at 6:30 p.m. A few things should be answered.

The Dayton Flyers were picked by just about every expert to win the win the Atlantic 10. While Temple (22-5, 10-2) has soared above expectations, Dayton (18-8, 7-5) has floundered and will need to win the A-10 Tournament to be one of the 65 teams to make your bracket.

That’s something the Owls know all about. Temple has been on the outside of the postseason picture looking in the last two years, only to win the A-10 Tournament and sneak in the Big Dance.

It is unclear how many teams the A-10 will get in this season, but three is a real possibility. Richmond (22-6, 11-2), who leads the conference, and Xavier (19-7, 10-2) each has resume’s that deserve consideration. The Owls’ 20th ranking tells you all you need to know about their chances of getting in.

When Dionte Christmas took his game and scoring ability to the next level after last season, Temple was left with a big hole that few – myself included – thought it could fill.

However the guard combo of Ryan Brooks Juan Fernandaz have combined for 27 points per night and forward Lavoy Allen has given the team a low post threat, averaging a double-double (11.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg). That inside-out balance has made the Owls such a tough team to beat. They can blow by the “man” defense and heve the shooters to rip apart the “zone.”

Tonight the Owls will get a big test. Dayton has been a disappointment and the only way to rectify that is to get hot over their final four games and roll into the A-10 Tournament with a host of momentum.

If Temple is as good as its resume claims it to be, Dayton’s run will never have a shot to get started.

Ten years ago under the tutelage of John Chaney, Temple earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. This team will not get that high.

But with a strong finish, the Owls could be just as dangerous.



Brian Westbrook says we will not retire

Brian Westbrook made one thing clear yesterday: Just because his career as an Eagle is over, doesn’t mean his career in the NFL is as well.

Westbrook said that he will not be retiring and is looking forward to the next chapter of his playing career.

“My plan is not to retire,” Westbrook told the Associated Press. “My plan is to continue to play football. I’ve already started training for next season. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are teams that will pick me up … I’m going to put all my effort into [returning]. I will make a return to the NFL. It will just not be with the Philadelphia Eagles.”

You can read all of Westbrook’s comments in this article on philly.com.

Plagued by injuries throughout his career, Westbrook suffered a pair of head injuries last season that had many wondering if he would ever play again. Even when Westbrook did play last season he wasn’t himself.

The Eagles owed the veteran running back 7.5 million, a price much too high to pay someone on the downside of his career with major injury concerns. That’s led the team to make a move tha,t although unpopular by many of the fans, is the right one from a business sense.

This goes beyond business though. Westbrook said that he may have been willing to take a pay cut to stay with the team but was never approached about doing so. He was released before the topic ever came up. That tells me that the main purpose of this deal was to move past Westbrook and put LeSean McCoy in a full-time starting role.

McCoy certainly has big shoes to fill. It will interesting to see how McCoy’s stats will compare with Westbrook’s next year – wherever he ends up.



Eagles release Brian Westbrook

The end of an era has arrived in Philadelphia. Brian Westbrook will no longer be an Eagle.

Philadelphiaeagles.com is reporting that the Eagles will release Westbrook today.

“Brian is one of the greatest Eagles of all time and he is even a better person and leader,” said head coach Andy Reid. “In my mind, there has not been a more versatile running back that the NFL has seen. I had a conversation with Brian this morning to let him know. This is by far the most difficult part of this job. We wanted to make this move now in order to maximize Brian’s chances of landing with another NFL team.”

Westbrook is the second former Pro Bowl running back to be let go in as many days as the Chargers cut ties with LaDainian Tomlinson.

Westbrook was with the Eagles for eight seasons and provided countless memories and big plays, helping his team to four NFC title games in his career.

Over the next few days Philly Sports Blogs will be bringing you some of our favorite memories of #36. In the meantime, we wish him the best. Enjoy a tatse of what 0ne of the greatest running backs in Eagles’ history provided.



Villanova slipping down the ranks

What looked like a foregone conclusion eight days ago is now something that is covered by a cloud of uncertainty.

Oh Villanova, what have you done?

After looking like a lock to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for three-quarters of the season, Nova has dropped consecutive games to Big East foes, falling back into a filed of no less than six teams that could be in the mix for a No. 1 seed. While seeding doesn’t mean everything, earning a top bill typically gives teams a bit of a home crowd edge as the committee likes to keep the top teams in their home region.

After starting the season 22-2, then Wildcats have lost consecutive games to UConn and Pittsburgh. Knowing how stacked the Big East is, there is no shame in these losses, but the timing of them could not be much worse.

There is still plenty to be determined and the final two weeks before the Big East Tournament will go a long way in doing so. After what should be an easy win against the University of South Florida, Nova finishes the year at Syracuse, at West Virginia and home against Cincinnati. Those would be games against No. 4, No. 8 and a team that until this week was in the top 25 all year.

And then they get to play those teams all over again in the Big East Tournament.

Villanova is certainly alive to get a No. 1 or No. 2 seed come March. However, their recent play just made that quest a much more difficult one.

Now the complete AP Top 25:

1. Kansas 26-1

2. Kentucky 26-1

3. Purdue 23-3

4. Syracuse 25-2

5. Duke 23-4

6. Kansas State 22-4

7. Villanova 22-4

8. West Virginia 21-5

9. Ohio State 21-7

10. New Mexico 25-3

11. Georgetown 18-7

12. Pittsburgh 21-6

13. Brigham Young 25-3

14. Michigan State 21-7

15. Butler 25-4

16. Vanderbilt 20-6

17. Wisconsin 20-7

18. Gonzaga 22-5

19. Tennessee 20-6

20. Temple 22-5

21. Texas 21-6

22. Texas A&M 19-7

23. Richmond 22-6

24. Baylor 20-6

25. Northern Iowa 24-3

Others Receiving Votes: UTEP 86, Virginia Tech 76, Maryland 57, Missouri 17, Illinois 14, Xavier 13, Marquette 11, Louisville 9, Mississippi State 5, Oklahoma State 4, Utah State 4, Wake Forest 2, Murray State 2, Cornell 2, Clemson 1.



Who you calling old, sonny ?

A quick note regarding multi sport athlete and former Eagles running back Hershel Walker. 

He recently embarked on a new career, this time trying something decidedly new.  MMA fighting. 

He won his first bout, and now fans, when polled, think his next logical opponent would be retired baseball star, Jose Canseco.  Walker, 47, college football’s 1982 Heisman Trophy winner and a fifth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, floored his first opponent, Greg Nagy in each round, but was unable to force his first foe into submission.  The surprising match up on January 30th shows that Walker has not given up on his training or the world of athletics.

Herschel has generally accomplished great things at everything he tries to do, from playing multiple sports in college and the pros, to a stint as a hopeful Olympic bobsledder, to mixed martial arts fighting.  Nagy landed just seven punches as he faced a man old enough to be his father while Herschel landed 73%  (77 of 106) strikes on his nearly helpless 21 year old opponent.

“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Walker told Fox Sports in an interview  “(After practice) every muscle in your body is sore.”

Another example of 40 being the new 30.  With Brett Favre, Bernard Hopkins, Randy Couture, Dara Torres, and a host of others over 40 and still competing actively today and routinely beating contenders half their age, I predict Herschel Walker will enjoy a good run in the MMA where training, conditioning and flexiblity may outweigh brute strength and energy.

There have been standout athletes that played or performed into their 40′s and 50′s in the past, like Gordie Howe who played every game of a season when he was 52 and Jerry Rice who was probably the third best receiver in the league at age 44, but I have to admit that in the past ten years, there have been more instances of 40+ year olds performing at an extremely high level.  And, since I just turned 40, this gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.  Step aside middle age, I am not done yet !!



Brad Lidge throwing off mound

Consider this step one.

Phillies closer Brad Lidge threw off the mound for the first time this spring today, and did so with the eyes of his teammates all over him.

It’s no secret that a bounce-back year from Lidge is considered one of the biggest shorelines of the upcoming season. After a perfect 2008, Lidge had a disastrous 2009, setting a team-record for blown saves.  Expect to hear nothing but good things this spring as the public relations department will do their best to fill Lidge’s head with positive thoughts.

Whether or not that will help his pitching is another issue. If Lidge returns to form the team seems to be a lock to win the NL East and a heavy favorite to go back to the World Series.

If he doesn’t. Well at least Halladay can go nine innings, so that takes care of one out of every five games.

The following is from a post by philly.com’s Andy Martino
“Brad Lidge threw 20 pitches off a mound earlier today, the first time he’s thrown off a mound since the 2009 season ended.


“The closer called the session “very successful.” Lidge threw all fastballs despite pleading his case to throw a slider or two to pitching coach Rich Dubee. Dubee wasn’t having any of it.


“He knows his body better than we know his body,” Dubee said. “But at the same time we have to make sure he isn’t trying to skip steps. Today he wanted to throw sliders. I said, ‘No. It’s your first time on the mound.’”

Dubee said Lidge will likely take two days off and throw off a mound again on Thursday. He won’t be throwing sliders then either.



Half the man he used to be

Well, recently The Answer was quoted as saying that his Sixers still held a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.

I have been trying to reserve judgement on everything about the Iverson trade this year, but Allen, as we all know, makes it hard to ignore him.  I do have to note that he has been far less of a disruptive force since his return, and until his recent comment about the team’s performance, he seemed to be focusing on keeping his mouth shut and just playing basketball.

But really, after some thought, I have to make an observation here.  The simple truth of the matter is, were Iverson the player he was in the late 90′s through 2006 with this team, they MIGHT have had a chance at going to the playoffs this year.  They would not have gotten very far had they made it, but at least they could have suited up.

Allen’s style of play really doesn’t work with this team.  Allen’s style of play has rarely worked with any team.  Allen is a force unto himself, and earlier in his career he was quite amazing to watch, but was always best when the coaching staff just let him run wild and dominate the game.

But now, Iverson is simply NOT The Answer.

Right now the Sixers are on a one way track to Nowheresville USA.  And by not making a significant trade last week, they have compounded their futility.  Hey, at least they are not the Nets !!

Iquodala has had a decent, workman like year.   Dalembert is good in center.   Brand is a disappointment.  Thaddeus Young shows promise, but he is young yet.  Same can be said for Lou Williams.  But the saddest thing is all five of the above mentioned players are better than the current Iverson.

When he re-signed for a nominal salary that should have told people what he had to offer.  We knew it would not be leadership, as he was never a leader.  And now he is barely a player.

Look at the numbers, they don’t lie. 

This year in 25 games he is averaging: 31.9 minutes per game, 13.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and .72 steals.

That goes against his previous 13 seasons of:  41.4 minutes, 27.0 points,  3.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals.

Dont get me wrong, I am not an Iverson hater.  Far from it.  I respect the little guy.  At his small size, being a four time scoring champion, 11 time All Star and 2 time MVP shows he once was as good as just about anyone.  Even today he ranks 6th all time in points scored per game.  But as the above comparison shows, all those figures are from a time which has passed him by.  And it really might be time for him to hang it up for good, and remember how good he was his first time around with the team, instead of predicting a playoff spot in 2010 when the Sixers are 21-34 which is patently ridiculous.

Allen Iverson is not the first player to go from nearly unstoppable to barely average in the twilight of his career, yet continue to play as if trying to hold on to those glory days.  Nor is he the best.  (See MJ’s Wizard stats at nearly ten points below his career average with the Bulls !)  But for some reason, from the time he signed as a brash, young, hardly tattooed, cornrowed, air apparant to the greatest that ever played, I always envisioned a more fitting end to his career.   

I will continue to remember Iverson as that guy who would throw up 40 shots a game, and take over the game, simply because he believed he was going to score, no matter what the odds, and he frequently did.   

 As a post script, I would like to add that I DOUBLY respect him for taking time off right now to be with his family and his ailing daughter.  I wish him and his family all my blessings and will keep his 4 year old daughter, Messiah, foremost in my thoughts.   This action does NOT diminish him as a player or leader for this struggling team, rather it magnifies his presence as a MAN and shows us all how unimportant the game is compared to the life we must lead outside of it.

Thank you AI for years of exciting plays and memories I will cherish always, even after you retire !



There is a new Ace in town

After starting last year against the perennial rival Atlanta Braves, the Phillies will have a chance to start off strong an immediately separate from the rest of the National League East.  Their first 9 games come against 2 teams that went a combined 133-191 in 2009.  With the addition of staff ace Roy Halladay and 5 of their first 8 series coming against sub .500 teams from 2009, the Phillies may have a real shot at the best start in team history.   Halladay may have 3 starts against National League bottom feeders before he is put to his first true test.

It is funny though, from all the reports I have read, and out of all the quotes attributed to Halladay, he seems to have a sense of nostalgia regarding his days with Toronto in the American League.  Here is one of his quotes:  ”I think I’ll miss a little bit of going into Yankee Stadium and Boston, where you’re expected to lose every time you go in there, and being able to walk out with wins.”

This is a man who is not only capable, but confident.  He holds the best record for a starting pitcher against the Yankees in the past 55 years among pitchers with 22 or more starts in that span.  He won 1 Cy Young and seriously competed for 2 others in the last decade in the American League, and now he gets to face teams who average fewer hits, a lower slugging percentage and less home runs.   He will also get to totally confound the oppositions pitchers when their turn at the plate arrives.   We haven’t had that kind of swagger here since the days of Mitch Williams, and in my opinion, Halladay has earned the right to swagger more than “The Wild Thing” ever did.

What I am most curious about however, is how will he do at the plate ?  He has faced an opposing pitcher at the plate rarely if ever in his career.   I mean, we all know he can pitch, but he is arriving in the city of brotherly love as the second highest paid player on the team, behind Ryan Howard, and what the fans really want to know is that they got good value for their money.

I mean, really, when the Phillies traded for Cliff Lee midseason last year, they knew he could pitch too, but who would have guessed he would go 7-33 with 2 doubles ?  It wouldn’t have surprised me if he had gone without a hit in his 12 starts as he got used to taking a stance at the plate as opposed to his accustomed place on the mound.   And how about his nonchalant fielding prowess on comebackers and infield pop ups late in the season and during the playoffs ?  And his exuberant dash to and from the mound every time out ?  Are we going to get a show from Halladay or just solid relentless pitching ?  His regimen already indicates he has an extremely strong work ethic, showing up at 5:30 each morning to begin his workout, normally ahead of the rest of the staff.  But the important question is, will he entertain us as he wins games, or will he just shut ‘em down and send them packing ?

Obviously I want to see some wins, I really feel he has to have at least a 15 win season to validate his salary and contribute to this team making a run at a fourth straight NL East title.  But it would also be nice to see a show.  Get the crowd into it, in the way Lee did last year, and Hamels did the year before.  After all, the Phillies may finally be in a position to get some national respect; after being a laughingstock for a century, they are seriously being considered a strong contender for not only the post season this year, but to return to the World Series.

Seriously, if  Halladay bats .050 and goes 15-5 with an ERA under 3.5 or better, it will still be an enormous upgrade for this team.  They are finally getting a solid staff in place that will enable them to dominate any team in a 5 or 7  game series, and that is what matters.  The only real question mark that remains is closing games.  Will we get the Lidge of 2008 who was nearly flawless, or the Lidge of 2009 who posted a 7+ ERA and set the record for blown saves ?  That, more than any one factor will most likely contribute to the Phillies successful return to the World Series.  I can’t wait for the baseball season to get underway so we can get some answers to these questions and get a chance to check both Halladay and Lidge out.

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Allen Iverson thinks Sixers can make playoffs

Allen Iverson came out after practice yesterday and said he thinks the team can still make a run at the playoffs.

In defense of Iverson, what else was he suppossed to say? He couldn’t just come out and say ‘we stink, seasons over, I think I will go retire again.

Philly.com quoted Iverson as saying: “Obviously, you’re playing for your pride and you should just want to win. We don’t feel like it’s out of reach.”

Because of the ineptitude Eastern Conference teams not named, Cleveland, Orlando, Boston or Atlanta, the Sixers are technically in the race, 6 ½ games behind Charlotte for the No. 8 seed.

But no one is fooling themselves. This team is going no where fasr.

But don’t take my word for it; ask an expert.

Jim Mora, what do you think about the playoffs?



Troy Vincent takes job with NFL

It should come as a surprise to no one that former Eagles’ cornerback Troy Vincent is back in the NFL – working for the NFL that is.

Vincent, who was President of the Players Association for a four-year period during his playing days, has accepted the role of vice president of player development for active players.

As great of a player as Vincent was for the Eagles, he was always said to be an even better man.

Vincent will oversee several support programs for players and their families, including the rookie symposium, conduct management program, and LifeSkills, as well as design new programs, the league said in announcing the hiring.

You can read a full report here.



Who is Big East supreme team, Villanova or Syracuse ?

With the college season hitting full stride in preparation for March Madness, I have one question I find myself still unable to answer.  Which team is better ?  Orange or Wildcats ?

Everyone is in agreement that the Big East is the marquee conference with five teams that could easily finish in the top 20 and ten that could show in the top 64. 

But the real question remains, who is the team to beat in the conference ?  The Orange hold the top spot entering tonights game against Georgetown after a surprising loss to Louisville at home.  But Villanova lurks a game and a half behind.  The AP and ESPN poll both have Villanova ranked higher than Syracuse. The Orange lost to Louisville and Pitt, while the Wildcats lost to a surprisingly good Owls team, then in the past ten days lost twice, to Georgetown and Connecticut.   They never should have lost to Connecticut, but the defense allowed Kembe Walker to dominate for 29 points.  That individual effort combined with the Huskies work off the bench doomed the Wildcats to be fighting for the number one spot at this stage of the season instead of having an obvious advantage.

If you can decide between those two as far as who the better team is, than my next question is, is there any conference that matches up with the Big East top to bottom ?   There are 5 teams with a below .500 record in the conference that already have 15+ wins.  A total of 12 teams have 15+ wins.  Rutgers stands at 4-9 in conference but was still able to hold off Georgetown the other night.

It is possible that the teams scoring double byes in the Big East tournament will be the teams with the best chance of playing for the national championship, and it is evident that Syracuse was well aware of this as they jumped out to a 44-31 lead at the half.  Villanova is ranked higher after the Orange loss but still trails in the conference so it seems it will all come down to their face to face meeting on February 27th, broadcast on ESPN to a national audience.   But don’t overlook the underappreciated West Virginia Mountaineers that close out against the Wildcats at home and look to avenge a 7 point loss at home that dropped them from the top five. 

 Right now, logic dictates I give the nod to Syracuse, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.  The Wildcats had a tougher schedule all year, and look to have more weapons in the arsenal to win the big one when it comes.  What I do know is that if Villanova finishes the year on a winning streak, taking care of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Cincinnati and West Virginia, they will not only have beat the Orange head to head, but also 2 teams that are fighting for their lives, one of whom already has a win against Syracuse as well as the top ten Mountaineers in a rematch when you know they are laying in wait.  

And if that happens, I will have to give the Wildcats the nod, because they will certainly have earned it and also will have enormous momentum on their side.



Sixers trade nothing for nothing

Sixers fans had hoped that the NBA’s trading deadline would be a time to celebrate a change in personnel for the team.

Personnel did change.

But the team still stinks.

Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert remain as the team did nothing to shake up an overpaid and underachieving squad. They did move a few bench players.

The following is an ESPN.com report.

“The Milwaukee Bucks have agreed to a trade that will send Jodie Meeks and Francisco Elson to the Philadelphia 76ers for Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey and a second-round draft pick, two league sources told ESPN.com NBA Insider Chad Ford.”

Meeks and Elson combine for just over 5 points per game.

Way to shake things up Ed!



Wright thinks Mets will win NL East

I guess this counts as “We’re the team to beat” Part 4.

Like the Phillies, the Mets opened Spring Training action yesterday and it didn’t take the team long to show off it’s confidence for the upcoming season. Despite a 72-90 year, David Wright believes the Mets are World Series contenders.

The following is an excerpt from a NY Post report:

“We’re expecting to go out there and win the National League East and go deep in the playoffs and win the World Series,” Wright said, a day before Mets pitchers and catchers were required to report to spring training. “That is the expectation I’ve gotten from the guys who are here early, and I [expect] this team is to get back to where we are winning the National League East.”

You can read the entire article here.

OK, it’s not exactly the type of verbal jab that Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Beltran have made in the past, but for now it’s going to have to be good enough.

Something was missing last year with the Mets out of the race. Part of what made the two previous NL East titles so great was the way it came down to the last week against a big time rival.

On paper the Phillies should be at least eight to 10 games better than the Mets this season, so the New York-Philadelphia rivalry may be put on hold for another year. Then again, the Mets still have a solid core and a counterpart to Roy Halladay in Johan Santana, so maybe things will tighten up again.

David Wright sure thinks so.

Even though Wrights comments were mild and meant as support for his teammates, the media is sure to run with this story, so expect some type of rebuttal from Rollins and company.

If nothing else, it should give the rivalry a nice kick in the butt after a year off.



Gearing up to go for 4 in a row

Thank God, baseball is back ! 

Pitchers and Catchers reported a day early as the Phillies get geared up to try to make it 4 in a row.  The role that used to belong to the Atlanta Braves as the perennial team to beat seems to have been handed over to our Phitens.   The Braves and Marlins both made off season moves that indicate the team in their sights is in fact the Phillies.  The Mets also signed Jason Bay for 66 million for four years to improve their chances at being competative.  They may finish 15 games out instead of 24, but will never seriously challenge.

I believe this year the race is a two team one.  The Braves and the Phillies, although unlike most of the late eighties through early this century, the Phillies are the team with the slight edge prior to the start of the season, thanks in part to their off season acquisition of Roy Holliday, the pitcher many expected them to sign when they ”settled on” Cliff Lee last year.

I LOVED Lee.

I respect the man as a pitcher and a player, and think he did amazing things for the Phillies, especially in his first 6 starts after the trade, and through the 2009 playoffs and World Series.

But seriously, as good as he was, the Phillies are markedly better with Halliday in the rotation.

The Phillies finished the season last year first in runs, and slugging, second in stolen bases and on base percentage.  They hit a team record 224 home runs as well.  They finished 6th in ERA.  So the obvious place for manager Charlie Manuel to focus on improvement was at pitcher. 

Some improvement may have occurred without management intevention, one thing in particular being right knee surgery to 33 year old closer Brad Lidge.  He may startle some with a year closer resembling his stellar 2008 after a lackluster 2009.  He contributed to both the Phillies 3rd straight National League East title as well as their World Series loss.  He has been quoted as saying he wants to end the season on Broad Street again, obviously with different results.  A repaired right knee may allow him to complete his follow through more quickly as well as hold runners on base better, two things he was unable to do at his normal level of competance at the close of last season, when it mattered most.

 So it is starting to take shape here, the 2010 pitching rotation.  Cole Hamels as the throwback Ace.  Roy Halliday as the entering Ace.  Jose Contreras as the Ace in waiting.   J A Happ as the rookie phenom.   Joe Blanton as the workhorse.   Madsen and Baez as middle relief.   Romero, Kenrick and Durbin as the bullpen crew.  Brad Lidge as THE CLOSER (Goat or hero, depending on which Lidge we get apparently)

With much of the offense returning intact, notable exception being the addition of Placido Polanco, these Phillies should once again chase the 100 win mark.  I, for one, can hardly wait for opening day.  Unlike last year when I was exiled to the deep south, this year, I will be there in person to watch my favorite sports team of all time take to the field.