Monday, July 14, 2008

The Break, the Brand, and the Bowl

It's Bastille Day, and a happy Bastille Day to all who are celebrating. There is much ado in the World of Philly Sports and, as always, it is my duty to share my $.02, if not a whole nickel's worth, on the topics at hand:


The Break


Though baseball's All-Star break comes a little after the halfway point in games, it always seems the most appropriate time to evaluate where the Phils are and where they're going. Up until this last week where the team remembered how to win, taking consecutive series from teams likely to make the playoffs, I'm sure you've been feeling as frustrated as I have with this team. As with many things in life, there's the bad news and the good news.

The bad news is that, if they had even played .500 ball, they would have added to the division lead, as the Mets and Marlins hit snags, and the Braves started to fall out of the race. The good news is that, as maddeningly awful as they played during that five-week stretch, somehow, some way, they're still in first. For as many games as they lost, they could easily be 4 or 5 games on the outside looking in, if not worse. So let's appreciate that we made it to the All-Star break clinging, albeit by our fingernails, to first place.

They do tend to be a stronger second-half team, and if Jimmy Rollins has awoken the way it seems he has, then I think we'll be okay offensively. Baseball is a streaky game, and over a season these things have a way of evening out the way they should. There's just too much power in this lineup for an outage like we saw to last a whole season.

One thing is for certain: we need another starter. First thing we need to do is fly Adam Eaton to some third-world country and leave him there forever. I simply don't understand how they continue to trot this guy out on the mound, when I could pitch better than this guy. (Actually, that's probably not true....if Wii Baseball kept tabs on my ERA, it wouldn't be so good either...but you get my drift.) For all the games he's scheduled to start, it would save all of us a lot of time and aggravation if we just spotted the other team a 5-0 lead and picked it up in the 3rd. They send Myers down to the minors and yet Eaton stays in the rotation? I must be missing something here.

As for potential acquisitions, I wasn't so gung-ho about Toronto's AJ Burnett as others were, but recently, and especially after yesterday's dismantling of the Yankee lineup, I'm crushing on him pretty hardcore. You gotta think that this guy would be fired up and pitch up to his full potential if he were on a contender, and perhaps he stepped it up yesterday in the hopes that he'd be even more on the Phils' radar screen. Probably not, but that's why my blog has the title it has.

Seattle's Erik Bedard could be good, but his health is a huge red flag, and makes me really nervous. Who I'd be interested in is a guy you may have heard of named Greg Maddux. Don't be fooled by his 3-8 record entering the break. His ERA is still under 4, and the man gets absolutely no run support from that anemic Padre offense. I maintain that he's by far the smartest pitcher in the game today, and perhaps in Major League history. He is, after all, the only pitcher ever to win 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons. Not to mention the price tag on Maddux is bound to be way less than it would be for Burnett or Bedard. How could you not feel good about your chances to win playoff games where a 350-win, 3000-strikeout guy is the starter. But hey, that's just me.

There's also been some talk about this prospect of theirs, Carlos Carrasco, down at double-A Reading. The Philly Inquirer reported the opinion of an NL scout who says that this kid and his "electric stuff" is ready for the majors. I agree with the assertion that the division isn't so strong, and while he could be right that bringing up prospects might be enough to take the division, that's not gonna be enough to win the whole thing. Which is, after all, what it's all about. Or is that the hokey-pokey?

Bottom line is that they are the best team in the division, and my guess is that they'll be able to do enough to win it. But if we've learned anything over the years, we know that it's a LONG season. And there's still miles to go before we sleep.

Parting thought: The triple-A team is the Lehigh Valley IronPigs? Really? What, dear God, is an IronPig? Do I really want to know? Why is it written as one word? And who came up with such a name? Honestly.

(My friend Scott Fein has since provided me with the answer: "The name is a reference to pig iron, used in the manufacturing of steel, for which the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania is world renowned." Thanks, Scott. Glad to know that the Lehigh Valley is famous for something other than Camp Harlam's milk products. That doesn't make it sound any less stupid or revolting, but at least it's connected to something.)

The Brand

The entire NBA-watching world is abuzz with talk about the Sixers' signing of all-star power forward Elton Brand. There is much vitriol flying back and forth between the Clippers management on one side and Brand and his agent, David Falk, on the other. L.A. coach Mike Dunleavy and Clippers fans everywhere feel jilted, left at the altar of the superstar wedding of free-agent acquisition Baron Davis and their own Brand. Brand and Falk say that the Clippers made Brand a "take it or leave it" offer some $20 million less than what Philly and others were offering, and that the language of the contract was suspicious in the eyes of Brand's attorneys.

Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. But, frankly, my dear, no one in Philly gives a damn.

As Phil Sheridan brilliantly wrote in this weekend's Inquirer, the beleagured sports fans of Philadelphia don't, and shouldn't feel any sympathy for Los Angeles. He writes:

"The great player.
The dysfunctional franchise.
The ugly breakup.
The change of scenery.

Philadelphia is all-too-familiar with this all-too-common tale. This is the city that watched Reggie White, Keith Jackson and Seth Joyner leave the Eagles to escape from former owner Norman Braman. This is the city that watched Charles Barkley and then Allen Iverson reach their expiration dates as contented members of the 76ers.

This is the city that watched Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen talk their way out of Phillies uniforms and on to World Series winners, that watched J.D. Drew do the same without ever actually putting on a Phillies uniform.

This is the city that exulted over the arrival of Eric Lindros, then exhaled, exhausted, at his exit.
Most recently, and perhaps most traumatically, there was the whole episode with that petulant Eagles wide receiver. What was his name again?

We've been dumped by Hall of Famers and all-stars and MVPs.

And so the lovely people of Los Angeles will just have to excuse us if we welcome Elton Brand to town without a second thought or a trace of guilt.

For once, we're benefiting from the breakup rather than feeling all broken up. For once, we're on the receiving end of the roster upgrade rather than the receiving end of the gut punch."

(To read the article in its entirety, click here.)

This signing is huge. It's an absolute coup. They're talking about staying with the Clippers, maybe going to the Warriors, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the Sixers are involved. And before Ric Bucher on ESPN can say it's not going to happen, it already has, and Elton Brand is a Sixer. Other than giving the Pistons a run for their money in the opening round of the playoffs, they were the hottest team in the league over the last month and change of the regular season. Add in Brand and his 20 points and 10 assists per game, and pretty much overnight the Sixers are a legitimate threat to Boston and Detroit's stranglehold over the East.

When was the last time the Sixers made a huge free-agent signing? When were they last involved in discussions with an all-star? How bout never?

While I know the least about basketball of the four major sports, I do care about the Sixers. And with the theft, ahem, signing of Brand, I now care a whole lot more.

The Bowl

And finally, last but certainly not least, the Philadelphia Soul will represent the National Conference in Arena Bowl XXII on July 27 in New Orleans. Majority owner Jon Bon Jovi celebrated by playing a free concert in Central Park. (Okay, the two events were not connected, but it had to make the evening more enjoyable for him.) The top-seeded Soul will take on the defending Arena Bowl champs and second-seeded San Jose SaberCats. Will this be Philadelphia's first Bowl championship? Or will the Soul disappoint, like many a Philly team before it? I don't know, but I'll be watching.

Keep the faith,
Go Phils,
Go Soul,
JStrom

3 comments:

Kimberly said...

Not long after Myers was pushed (whole-heartedly thrown) to the Minor Leagues, I saw a picture of him pitching in the AAA uniform. I could not tell what it said, but I swore there was a pig on it and the pig looked like it had bolts... Very confused (weren't they in Ottawa?), I went to Wikipedia and found this out about the Phillies AAA team: "The name is a reference to pig iron, used in the manufacturing of steel, for which the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania is world renowned."

Who knew?

Go Phils.

kevinb said...

Honest question for you Josh, have you ever watched an Arena League game? I've tried, I really have, and I just can't make myself tune in. Maybe summer Saturdays (or is it Sundays?) are a tough sell for me, but what is it about the product I can't get attached to??

kevinb said...

So is Blanton enough???