On The Edge Blog

Friday, December 18, 2009

Phillies are NOT better after acquiring Halladay

Winston Churchill once said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.”

The problem with the Phillies’ moves this offseason is that I really don’t know if their roster is changing in the right direction.

I like the idea of replacing Pedro Feliz with Placido Polanco at third base, but replacing Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay doesn’t do much for me. In fact, I believe that it makes the Phillies worse for both 2010 and the future.

For the last few days, you couldn’t watch TV, listen to the radio, go online or even walk down the street without hearing someone talking about the Phillies trading for the Toronto Blue Jays' ace.

It finally happened, except it happened five months too late.

Back in July, I wrote a column begging Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., to trade for Roy Halladay. I wrote that it didn’t matter who we sent to Toronto, as long as Halladay was wearing red pinstripes. But when the Phillies downright stole Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians, I was pretty satisfied.

However, I didn’t realize that we could have had BOTH pitchers in red pinstripes for the 2009 playoff run.

As the trade deadline approached, everyone in the Phillies organization swore that Double-A pitching prospect Kyle Drabek was untouchable, which is why the trade talks with the Blue Jays broke down, causing Amaro to turn his attention to Lee.

Apparently Drabek lost that “untouchable” tag in the last few months, because he was included in the deal, making him no longer slated for a mid-2010 debut in the Phillies’ starting rotation.

Now I don’t know if the Blue Jays would have taken a package of Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis d’Arnaud for Halladay back in July, but I don’t think even the staunchest New York Yankees fan could believe that the Phillies wouldn’t have won back-to-back World Series titles if Halladay and Lee were starting five of the seven games in the Fall Classic.

So why am I so pessimistic about the Phillies losing Cliff Lee – one of the top pitchers in baseball – but gaining Roy Halladay, who is the undisputed best pitcher in baseball? By the way, that claim does include the likes of Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia.

It’s pretty simple. The reason the Phillies fell short in the World Series was that Lee couldn’t pitch every game. Cole Hamels, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton weren’t able to manage just one victory in four starts, which would have put the ball back in Lee’s left hand for game 7.

So in 2010, if the Phillies get back to the World Series, Halladay will not be able to pitch every game, which means Hamels, Blanton, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer, Pedro, or any other starting pitcher the Phillies can find, would still need to win one or two games in the Fall Classic.

I fully understand that the Phillies would have had absolutely nothing remaining in the minors for the next two or three years if they kept Lee for the 2010 season, but how could they not have paired Halladay and Lee for the 2009 stretch run? They still could have spent the offseason working to trade whoever wasn’t willing to sign a contract extension, but maybe they would have had enough money in the payroll to extend both pitchers if they had won a second World Series. Or they could have traded away Hamels to help alleviate the jump in payroll.

Right now, the Phillies still lose to the Yankees or the Red Sox in six games.

But that just makes their 2010 team the same as the 2009 team that fell just short, so why are they worse?

The fact remains, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher to win game 2 of the World Series, but that pitcher could have been Drabek. If the Phillies convinced Lee to stick around beyond 2010, which apparently he was quite willing to do, the Phillies would still have Drabek to replace Hamels as the ace of the future. Because they traded for Halladay, they don’t have Drabek waiting in the wings to step up.

At this point, the Phillies are hoping that Hamels can recover from whatever ailed him all of 2009, which somehow cost him four or five miles per hour off his fastball, making him go from devastatingly deceptive in the 2008 playoffs to completely hittable in the 2009 playoffs.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful that the Phillies should be competitive for the next few seasons with Halladay locked up through 2013, but walk outside and ask a person wearing an Eagles jersey if they are content with all of the playoff appearances the Birds have made this decade.

I know that the Phillies won it all in 2008, and it is great that they have gotten to a point where the regular season is merely a formality, but falling just short will get old pretty quickly, especially knowing that Lee or Drabek would have been the difference between a parade in Philadelphia and a parade somewhere else.


Like the "On the Edge" column? 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. We will be taking off for the holidays, but will be back in full swing in 2010, hopefully talking about the Eagles rolling through the playoffs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Desperation filling the Wachovia Center

While the Phillies fine-tune their roster, and the Eagles roll along despite a heaping pile of injuries, Philadelphia’s other two teams spent the last week trying to make themselves relevant in what has become a two-sport town.

The Flyers and Sixers both reached deep down into their “in case of emergency” bags, and pulled out plans that they hope will make people care about hockey and non-college basketball.

Enter a coaching change for the Flyers, and the return of Allen Iverson to the Wachovia Center for the 76ers.

Because the Sixers are destined to be mediocre in a league dominated by two-superstar teams, I’m going to begin by breaking down the Flyers’ troubles.

Right now, the Flyers sit at .500, despite this being one of the most talented teams in franchise history. The Flyers are tied for third/last place in the division, but right now they are on the outside looking in when examining the playoff picture two months into the season.

So, instead of telling their players to hustle and stop taking stupid penalties, the Flyers changed coaches, bringing in Peter Laviolette, who coached the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006.

Obviously, it was John Stevens’ fault that the Flyers average the most penalty minutes per game in the NHL this season. It couldn’t possibly have been the result of lazy play by supposed superstars Danny Briere and Mike Richards. Or the fact that nobody seems to work in the offensive zone, which resulted in a team that has more offensive weapons than any other team in the league scoring just seven goals in their last six games (before last night's six-goal outburst).

However, as much as I liked Stevens as the Flyers coach (Fun fact: Stevens’ tenure was the fourth-longest in franchise history, one game fewer than General Manager Paul Holmgren’s tenure as coach from 1988 to 1991, yet one game longer than Pat Quinn’s tenure from 1979 to 1982), I respect the idea that Laviolette is going to make the Flyers forecheck better and fight less.

Currently, only the Calgary Flames fight more often than the Flyers, but they have all-world goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to bail them out of trouble. The Flyers do not have someone nearly as talented as Kiprusoff to keep them afloat when Dan Carcillo decides to start punching a player before his gloves are dropped, resulting in nine minutes of power play time and three goals for the other team.

Honestly, I think Stevens was a great coach, but a new voice was needed to make up for several mistakes made by the front office in the last few years. It is a shame that a good person like Stevens has to take the fall for a front office that offered $52 million to Briere, which, because of the salary cap, forces them to put re-treads between the pipes.

By the way, Antero Niittymaki has a 2.24 GAA, with a .927 save percentage. Wouldn’t he look great in the crease right now?

This Flyers team is too talented to wallow at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for the rest of the season, so hopefully a coaching change will light a fire under Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger and the rest of this lazy team.

Switching gears to the NBA, the Sixers don’t have the talent to come back from a slow start, so their only goal is to entice more than 11,000 people to come to South Philly for a basketball game 32 more times this season.

In a conference where six teams – Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, Atlanta, Miami and Chicago – have two players that are better than anyone stepping on the court for the 76ers, Allen Iverson is merely a marketing ploy to make people waste their money at an NBA game, instead of investing it in a Phillies season-ticket package.

If there is another reason for this signing, I can’t see it.

I get that since the Sixers are not a contender for the NBA title, the bottom line is the most important thing, especially in a league that is losing money so quickly that reports had the NBA lining up $200 million in loans last year to help teams make it through the 2008-09 season.

So now, the Sixers, who fill the Wachovia Center approximately to 58 percent of its capacity, decided that money was more important than trying to develop their young talent.

The Sixers have a very young team, and one of their few veterans, Elton Brand, is complaining about coming off the bench, but the Sixers decided that they would bring in Iverson, who has never gotten along with any star player, and refused to come off the bench for Detroit and Memphis.

Iverson couldn’t get along with Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, Carmelo Anthony or anyone on the Pistons, and then retired because he wasn’t good enough to start for the Grizzlies, who at 8-12, have a better record than the 5-16 Sixers.

If you can tell me how signing A.I., and promising him a starting position will help the development of Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights, Lou Williams or Jrue Holiday, then you are smarter than I am. How will Iverson throwing up a 6-for-21 night help them develop? He shot less than 40 percent from the floor in 26 out of 57 games last year, so unless the goal is to turn their youngsters into fantastic rebounders, this is a bad move.

All I see is the Sixers bringing in an aging, whiny player, who shoots 42 percent for his career, and managed to alienate every talented player and coach who ever stepped foot in the same arena as him.

This has disaster written all over it.

At least the Flyers can still turn their season around. The Sixers are simply sacrificing their chances next year for the opportunity to make a few extra dollars this year.


Like the “On the Edge” column? Hear more of my opinions about Philly sports every Friday at 3:30 p.m. on WBCB 1490 AM during the Coffee with Kahuna show.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eagles’ resiliency makes up for sloppy play

The Eagles escaped from the Linc on Sunday afternoon with a victory despite curious coaching decisions and three more stars needing the help of their overworked trainers.

Beginning with Andy Reid’s decision to try an onside kick to start the game, finishing with DeSean Jackson and Brodrick Bunkley on the sidelines, and Brent Celek dropping three passes along the way, this game had loss written all over it. Then suddenly, Donovan McNabb, Jason Avant and LeSean McCoy decided that a loss to the lowly Redskins was not in the cards.

For the second week in a row, McNabb flawlessly executed a fourth quarter comeback victory to keep the Eagles in a wild-card spot, and just one game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East.

I know that this was an ugly win, but regardless, it is still a win, and last year, this would have been a loss. In fact, last year, this game actually was a loss, as the Eagles squandered a golden opportunity, losing 10-3 to the Redskins in week 16.

However, lately, the Birds seem to have some fourth quarter magic, as they have scored 32 points in the final period in the last three weeks.

Against the Redskins, McNabb was 5-for-7 for 115 yards on the final two drives of the game, but the key to both drives, besides Avant’s fearless ability to go over the middle, was the running game. McCoy and Leonard Weaver combined for 41 yards on eight carries on those drives, which opened things up for a greatly depleted group of wide receivers.

Over the last two weeks, the Eagles have battled inconsistency and injuries, but at the end of the season, these comeback wins over the Redskins and Bears could be the difference between us fans watching football in January or ignoring football in January.

Quick thoughts and observations:

* After Asante Samuel’s interception late in the first half, the Eagles’ offense took over with 19 seconds left in the half, and was able to take the lead on a field goal. The amazing part of this situation is that Philadelphia had all three timeouts with 19 seconds left in the first half! I can’t remember the last time the Eagles went more than 29 minutes without using a timeout.

* Speaking of Samuel, I keep asking this, but I haven’t found an answer, so I’ll ask again: Why does Samuel play football if he doesn’t want to hit anyone? When Samuel goes for a tackle, he slaps at the player or simply falls down. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the two interceptions he had against the ‘Skins, but his “tackling” technique has already cost Philadelphia a victory against the Raiders, and I would bet that it is going to cost the Eagles in a big way at some point in December or January.

* The Redskins converted on eight of their first 12 third-down opportunities mostly because guys like Sheldon Brown and Macho Harris were nowhere near the wide receivers before the play. On 3rd-and-4, Brown should be at the line of scrimmage to play press coverage on Santana Moss, but for some reason, he was beyond the first-down marker, and Moss caught a slant for eight yards. If Philly is going to blitz against the Redskins’ sixth different offensive line combination of the season, everyone should know that the quarterback will take a three-step drop and quickly get rid of the ball before getting clobbered. If the defensive backs play press coverage, then the Eagles can get more sacks on third down, and actually get off the field. The exact same thing happened early in the second quarter on Moss’ four-yard touchdown reception. Harris and Jeremiah Trotter were both standing in the end zone, instead of playing closer to the line of scrimmage, so Moss split the two defenders on a quick slant route. Harris never made it out of the end zone to even attempt to cover Moss, who had his easiest six points of the season.

* While I seem to be ripping on the defensive backs a lot, I will commend them for being on the field more than usual, and not complaining about playing different positions. With Joselio Hanson (suspended) and Ellis Hobbs (injured reserve) not on the field, Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps and Harris have been playing several different positions, including cornerback. The results have been mixed, but the more game-day repetitions they get at cornerback, the more Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott can mix up his blitzes later in the season.

On Sunday, the Eagles will take on the Atlanta Falcons, who are trying to avoid falling out of contention for a playoff spot, but have announced they will be without their quarterback, Matt Ryan, who left last Sunday’s game with a toe injury.

Prediction: Eagles win the battle of the birds, 31-16.

Like the "On the Edge" column? 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.
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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