On The Edge Blog

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

McNabb backs up 'must win' talk

The Eagles defeated the Chicago Bears in primetime on a fourth quarter comeback led by Donovan McNabb, but what happens now?

After McNabb declared the game against the Bears as a “must win,” where do the Eagles go from here? Strong safety Quintin Mikell seconded McNabb’s sentiments, but does this mean that every game through the end of the season is also a “must win” game?

McNabb’s play backed up his sense of urgency, but after all, there are six games left in the season, and the Eagles are in the exact same spot as when McNabb made his thoughts known. Dallas, New York and Green Bay all took care of business on Sunday, so the Eagles are still one game behind the Cowboys, and currently occupy one of the two wild card spots based on a head-to-head victory over the Giants and their superior conference record compared to the Packers.

In my opinion, it looks as though McNabb knows that this is the most talented offense he has ever worked with, but that everyone seemed to be on cruise control since giving a beatdown to the Giants at the Linc on Nov. 1.

McNabb’s comments during the week appeared to have fired everyone up, but isn’t it too early in the season to be playing mental games like this?

The Eagles still have a full slate of NFC East games, along with Atlanta, San Francisco and Denver remaining on the schedule. The latter three teams all lost on Sunday, while showing no defensive prowess, which plays right into the Eagles’ game plans, but they certainly won’t win out and roll into the playoffs with a 12-4 record.

So with that in mind, what happens in a few weeks when the Eagles throw a dud out there against an inferior team? How will McNabb fire up the youngsters in mid-December after declaring that a game in week 11 was a “must win,” and more importantly, why do NFL players need to be fired up? They only play 16 times per season, so you would think they would have the same intensity every week.

Nonetheless, the schedule looks pretty nice for the Eagles down the stretch, but they need to keep playing with a must-win attitude, regardless of whether or not McNabb comes out and says that is the case.

Quick thoughts and observations:

* Michael Vick actually did something! He has been a complete waste for most of the season, but on 3rd-and-1 in the first quarter, he came up with a huge 34-yard run, showing some of the pre-prison speed and elusiveness that the Eagles were hoping to see when they signed him in August. In the process, he eclipsed his entire season of rushing productivity on that play.

* With Brian Westbrook sidelined with another concussion, the Eagles used three different running backs against the Bears, all of whom were offseason acquisitions. I have to give Andy Reid credit for this, because there have been quite a few seasons that started with a backfield ill-equipped for handling injuries. The trio of LeSean McCoy, Leonard Weaver and Eldra Buckley combined for a touchdown and 120 yards of total offense against the Bears.

* The Eagles believe that they can throw anyone out there at middle linebacker, but Joe Mays played like a sixth-round draft pick, which should make us all wonder why he was given the first shot at replacing Stewart Bradley in training camp. Mays made just one tackle the entire game, and repeatedly looked to be out of position. Needless to say, the Eagles need Akeem Jordan back in the lineup as the calendar turns to December.

* I know that a lot has been made of the Eagles recent red-zone inefficiency, having kicked four field goals in the last two games, but they have been in the red zone eight times in the last two weeks. Looking at the bright side, they seem to have fixed their inability to sustain drives, and not rely solely on the big play to get them points. Against the Bears, the Eagles racked up 18 first downs, which shows that they are systematically moving the ball, and not waiting for DeSean Jackson to break one, although it certainly isn’t a bad thing when he does.

* The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East at 7-3, however, they have only scored 14 points in the last two weeks, after racking up 121 points in their previous four games. Despite their win over the pathetic Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Cowboys appear to have hit their December downturn a little early this year. Predicted finish for the Cowboys: 9-7.

This Sunday, the Eagles should be able to start a nice winning streak to end November, as the Redskins come to town.

Prediction: Eagles roll, 27-9.

Like the "On the Edge" blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we will talk about the Eagles’ comeback victory, and discuss the early wheelings and dealings from free agency.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Phillies hot stove heating up

It has been two weeks since the Phillies’ roster holes were exposed by the New York Yankees, so now begins the part of the year that keeps us glued to the Internet and sports-talk radio stations, because the hot stove is burning white hot around the winners of the National League pennant.

At this point, the Phillies could head in two possible directions with their offseason moves, because their core group of players is guaranteed to be here through 2011, with only Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz extended through 2012 or beyond.

With that in mind, General Manager Ruben Amaro could make a flurry of one-year signings, designed to win in 2010, or he could make one or two big moves designed to start a new core group, which would eventually include Domonic Brown, Michael Taylor and Kyle Drabek, who are all tearing up the minors.

Looking at the roster as it currently stands, the Phillies’ starters are set basically everywhere except third base, but they will need to fill in at least one starting pitcher, two relievers, and probably two or three bench spots.

Here are my predictions for the Phillies’ moves this offseason:

Third Base: After saying goodbye, at least temporarily, to Pedro Feliz because his equipment bag includes only a glove, everyone is clamoring for the Phillies to sign Angels’ third baseman Chone Figgins. I would love to see Figgins’ 101 walks and .395 on-base percentage leading off for the Phillies, but unless they find an extra $50 million in a hidden account, he’s not coming here.

The most likely candidate to replace Feliz is former Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa, who could probably be signed for a maximum of three years/$18 million. The only problem with DeRosa is that he struggled last year, hitting just .250 after three consecutive years of .285 or better. If the Phillies sign DeRosa, they will be hoping that he can bring his batting average back up toward .300, and that his power sticks around, because despite hitting 44 homers in the last two years, he only smashed 48 bombs in the previous seven seasons combined.

Wish List: Figgins. Best Guess: DeRosa, with the slight chance that the Phillies believe that Adrian Beltre’s stunning drop-off in power is not a chemical issue.

Starting pitching: With Cliff Lee, Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ occupying four spots in the rotation, the Phillies need to decide whether Jamie Moyer can be trusted in the final slot, or if they should release the suddenly not-so-ageless wonder.

Moyer was dumped from the rotation in August, after seeing his ERA, hits per nine innings and home runs allowed all skyrocket compared to his 2008 revival. He succeeded in 2008 by giving up his fewest home runs since 2003, but in 2009, Moyer gave up seven more homers in 34 fewer innings, and saw his ERA jump from 3.71 to 4.94.

It would be great if the Phillies made a big splash and signed Ben Sheets or Rich Harden, because despite their injury history, those are the best bang-for-your-buck guys available. However, the most likely option remains Moyer, or even Kyle Kendrick, who, with new pitches at his disposal, posted a 3.42 ERA in 26 1/3 innings last year.

Wish List: Harden or Sheets. Best Guess: Moyer or Kendrick. Wild Cards: Kyle Drabek and Antonio Bastardo.

Bullpen: The Phillies usually carry either seven or eight relievers, with one or two more stashed on the disabled list or in Lehigh Valley, so after accounting for Lidge, Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero, there are four spots open in the bullpen. Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park, who are both Type B free agents, should return, meaning Clay Condrey will be back with the Phillies only if two relievers aren’t signed.

If the Phillies open up the check book this offseason, they could find themselves with Jose Valverde or Rafael Soriano to play setup man for Brad Lidge, but more importantly prepare for another disaster season from “Lights On” Lidge. Both Soriano and Valverde are proven closers, who posted ERAs under 3.00, while striking out more than one batter per inning in 2009, and would look great mowing down hitters at Citizens Bank Park.

Wish List: Soriano. Best Guess: Fernando Rodney. Wild Card: Scott Mathieson.

Bench: To steal a phrase from Dr. Seuss, the three words that best describe the Phillies’ bench in 2009 are: “stink, stank, stunk.” Matt Stairs will probably take his seemingly 0-for-2009 elsewhere, and Eric Bruntlett will not be offered arbitration. That leaves Ben Francisco for defense, Greg Dobbs as the lefty, and Paul Bako or some other nondescript catcher.

For the final two spots, the Phillies should bring up John Mayberry, Jr., for right-handed power, and sign Mark Loretta to give Ryan Howard a break against tough lefties. Last season, Howard hit .320 against righties, with 39 homers and 108 RBIs, but against lefties, he hit, and I use that term loosely, .207 with 6 homers and 33 RBIs, while striking out 83 times in 222 at-bats.

Wouldn’t it be great to see Howard hit well for a few days against righties, and then get a quick rest so that a four-strikeout night against a lefty doesn’t cause him to go into a three-week slump?

Loretta is a .306 hitter against lefties in his career, and could easily hit seventh in the lineup, allowing Jayson Werth, who hit 46 points higher and homers nearly twice as often against lefties, to bat cleanup once or twice per week.

Wish List: Loretta. Best Guess: Jerry Hairston, Jr.

It would be great if the Phillies added guys like Figgins and Soriano this offseason to make sure that they stay strong when the contracts of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez expire after the 2011 season, but that would mean a huge jump in payroll for the next two years. I think they will opt for the lesser options in each scenario, while relying on Utley, Howard, and Rollins to get them another parade before 2012.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As the author of this article, I sincerely apologize if I offended Domonic Brown. The NFP (Not For Print) note was obviously not meant for publication, but was inserted so the editor would not change the spelling of his name. Nevertheless, it was a bad joke made worse by the poor judgment of placing the note in the run of the story. The only idiot in this case is me.


Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we will talk about whether Brian Westbrook should be shut down for the season, and discuss the very latest hot stove rumors and reports.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Time for World Series Reflection...

I had to let this loss settle before I could write coherently about the Phillies squandering their chance at repeating as "World Champions of Baseball."

After the loss on Wednesday night, I had so many thoughts running through my mind, but two of them stuck out from the jumble in my head.

My first thought was that this loss didn't cause the pain and agony that I expected to feel after Shane Victorino's ground ball was gobbled up by Robinson Cano.

If the dream season of 2008 had not occurred, my column and blog would be appropriately titled right now, but it has only been 53 weeks since I stood in section 428 and watched the Phillies celebrate the first Philadelphia championship in my lifetime.Even after losing to the Yankees, I am confident the Phillies will be back for more next season, and that it won't be too long before we are standing along Broad Street for another championship parade. I won't say it will happen in 2010, but it won't be another 25-year wait.

My second thought was that while these Phillies had many of the same players from last year, they were not nearly as good as the 2008 Phillies.

Baseball, like all sports, is a game of inches, and this year, those inches went against the Phillies.

Last year, Jayson Werth's blooper fell between Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura's body and glove, allowing Geoff Jenkins to score in the sixth inning of game 5, part II.This year, a few inches allowed Alex Rodriguez to circle the bases in game 3 of the World Series, causing Cole Hamels to mentally shut down. In game 4, if Brad Lidge's slider was an inch lower, Johnny Damon strikes out in the ninth inning, instead of sparking a game-winning rally. And if Shane Victorino catches Derek Jeter's line drive in the third inning of game 6, Pedro gets out of trouble, instead of putting the Phillies in a deep hole.

That was the story of these Phillies.

Last year, the inches went our way because all 25 players had heart and were determined to win it all. This year, it seemed like Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Cliff Lee were the only players who showed up for the World Series, and it was evident in each of the four losses to the Yankees.

While you could argue that each of those plays was a freak occurrence that just went the wrong way for the Phillies, I believe that when you are the more talented team, you make your own luck. However, this series showed that these Phillies were not the more talented team. They certainly weren’t as determined as last year’s world champions.

In the 2009 World Series, the Yankees seemed to use pretty much every player on their 25-man roster, and for the most part, they came through.For the Phillies, it was the opposite.Last year's team had 25 guys who could all be counted on to make a positive contribution to the title run, with the possible exception of So Taguchi. This year, the Phillies roster was made up of the same top players, but quite a few useless bodies at the bottom of that list.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what was the purpose of having Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, Paul Bako, Eric Bruntlett, and Greg Dobbs on the roster. Throw in the ineffectiveness of Pedro Feliz, Matt Stairs and Ben Francisco, and you have one-third of the roster with either no role or no ability to contribute.

If Charlie Manuel didn't have faith in Myers out of the bullpen, either because of injury or general dislike for him, then why have him on the roster?

If Matt Stairs was going to be the lefty off the bench regardless of the situation, why have Dobbs sitting there?

While it was obvious that Bruntlett and Bako had no chance of seeing the field, Happ could have been a solid contributor. Instead of remembering that he was the Phillies' best starting pitcher for about three months this season, the Phillies tried to turn him into J.C. Romero's injury replacement, which everyone could see was a disaster waiting to happen, and resulted in a 5.68 ERA for a guy who had a 2.99 ERA as a starter during the season.

For guys like Feliz and Stairs, they wouldn't recognize the guys who played key roles in last year's title run, and while Jenkins doubled off the wall in last year's clincher, Francisco went 0-for-3, with two strikeouts, to help bring about the Yankees' celebration.

Despite the loss, life goes on, and the days that have since past have been pretty nice. (I even got to put the top down on my car a few times.)

And anyway, the Eagles and Flyers have some talented young players, right?


Like the "On the Edge" blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we will talk about the Eagles' cross-country trip to San Diego, along with some Flyers and Sixers talk.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eagles take control of the NFC East ... for now

Well one Philadelphia team handled its business on Sunday, Nov. 1, but sadly it wasn’t the Phillies.

Because Cliff Lee and Chase Utley managed to send the World Series back to New York with an 8-6 win over the Yankees in game 5 on Monday, this column will focus on the first place Philadelphia Eagles, and their 40-17 pounding of the Giants.

Coming into this game, each team needed to come away with a victory to show that they were for real, as both had suffered bad losses at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, and most of their wins were against the NFL’s version of Division II football teams.

Three hours later, the Eagles had shown they were for real, despite a lifeless loss to the Oakland Raiders two weeks earlier, and the Giants were left scratching their heads as they stumbled to a third loss in a row.

The Eagles, despite playing without Brian Westbrook, looked like the explosive offense that we all envisioned before the season. Donovan McNabb tossed three touchdown passes, and behind a healthy (finally!) offensive line, had enough time to draw up new plays while waiting for his receivers to get open.

While DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek are doing a great job of getting open for Donovan McNabb, the offensive line is finally starting to gel, which will be the single most important factor in the Eagles’ success this year.

Now that Todd Herremans and Stacy Andrews have gotten healthy on the offensive line, McNabb will be able to go through his progressions and find the open man among all of the weapons at his disposal.

For this reason, the Eagles’ terrible loss to the Raiders can be forgotten, because they were playing with three backups on the line, and McNabb was running for his life. Now, completely healthy, McNabb had plenty of time to pass, despite squaring off against the talented defensive line of the Giants.The offensive line even managed to open up big holes in the running game, as Leonard Weaver and LeSean McCoy scampered for touchdown runs of 41 and 66 yards, respectively.

As the Eagles ride a two-game winning streak into a showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants are headed in the wrong direction, having lost three in a row since starting the season with five consecutive victories. The schedule won’t provide the Giants with any breaks, as their next three games are against San Diego, Atlanta and Denver, who have combined for a 14-7 record.

The Giants’ problems this season are completely related to turnovers. The defense isn’t causing them, and the offense is giving up too many.On defense, the Giants forced six turnovers in their games against Dallas and Oakland, but in the other seven games, they have managed just nine turnovers in their other six games.

By not forcing more turnovers, and giving up big plays, including three plays of more than 40 yards against the Eagles, the Giants are forcing Eli Manning to lead the offense on longer drives, instead of just managing the game.

With more pressure on Eli’s shoulders, he has reverted back into the turnover machine from early in his career. He started the season with 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his first five games. However, in his last three games, he has tossed just three touchdowns, but threw six interceptions, giving him eight on the season in eight games, and now 82 throws to the wrong team in 81 career games.

He has also completed less than 50 percent of his passes in the last three games, so I don’t know whether teams have figured out how to stop his wide receivers or if he is reverting back to his former self. Whatever the problem is, he needs to correct it because the Giants could be 6-5 or worse at the end of November if he continues playing this way.

As the Giants search for answers, the Eagles are tied for first place right now, but they need to continue this strong play on Sunday, when the Cowboys come to town, or else they could find themselves in third place on Monday morning, with a new set of questions to answer.

Prediction: Eagles win with a late touchdown, 27-20, and improve to 3-0 in the NFC East.

Like the “On the Edge” blog? Hear more of my opinions about Philadelphia sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show. This week, we will recap the World Series, and preview the Eagles’ Sunday night battle with the Cowboys.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fightins ready to fight back in game 5

I know that the situation is dire after game four, but the Phillies path to a repeat title is not as bad as it seems.
If Cliff Lee can pull out a victory tonight over A.J. Burnett, who is starting on short rest, then Pedro Martinez would head back to the mound in the Bronx to face Andy Pettitte, who would also be on short rest.
So far in the playoffs, Lee has given up just two earned runs in 33 1/3 innings, so a victory tonight would not be unexpected. On the other hand, Burnett is 4-0 in four starts on three days rest in his career. However, while Burnett pitched lights out baseball in game 2, he is the same pitcher who walked more than four batters per nine innings during the season, and had struggled in the playoffs before the World Series.
After tonight, the Phillies would send Pedro to the hill, and he pitched better in game 2 than Pettitte did in game 3 on full rest.
In game 7, the Phillies could send Hamels to the mound, or they could go with an "All Star game" pitching setup, and send guys like J.A. Happ, Lee, Chad Durbin, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers, Scott Eyre and Ryan Madson out there for an inning or two at a time against Sabathia, who would be starting his third game in nine days. With some planning, the Phillies could send a fresh pitcher to the mound to face Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez each time that part of the lineup was due up.
Remember, tonight is why the Phillies traded for Lee, and Wednesday would be the night that Pedro was destined to pitch when he signed with the Phillies.
I know that the bats have been struggling, but there is still time to step up, especially for Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, who have struggled against lefties all series, but now get to face a hard-throwing right hander.
The odds are against the Phillies, as only six teams have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in World Series history, but Lee can get the ball rolling tonight.
One game at a time, the Phillies can still win the 2009 World Series.
Prediction: Phillies win 5-2 and send this series back to the Bronx.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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