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September 2015
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November 2015

Sixers exercise options on Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas

To no one's surprise, the Sixers have decided to exercise team options on Joel Embiid, Nik Stauskas and Nerlens Noel. This will keep all three of them under contract through the 2016-17 campaign.

Pompey reports that Noel is set to make around $4,384,490 this season while Okafor and Stauskas will make $4,826,160 and $2,993,040 respectively.

Nerlens Noel started the season by scoring 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in the Sixers season opening loss in Boston. Last season, Noel finished averaging 9.9 points and led all rookies with 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals per game.

Joel Embiid had bone-graft surgery to repair a bone in his right foot in August that will cause him to miss his second straight season. Recovery was going well until a setback, which caused him to need a second surgery.

Stauskas hasn't suited up in a Sixers uniform yet, but could see playing time as early as tonight in the Sixers home opener. He'll look to have an impact on a rebuilding Sixers team that is in desperate need of shooters, after averaging just 4.4 points per game during his rookie season with the Kings.

The Sixers home opener is tonight at the Wells Fargo Center against the Utah Jazz. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00pm.


Season in Review: Jeff Francoeur

You couldn’t have had a more under the radar signing than on November 13, 2014, when the Phillies signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Francoeur was among a list of seven journeyman players signed on that day. The others included such household names as Xavier Paul, Russ Canzler,= and Brian Bogusevic. There were little expectations with this acquisition as he hadn’t spent a full season in the big leagues since 2012 with Kansas City when he hit .235, with 16 home runs.

Philadelphia was coming into the 2015 season with all left-handed hitting outfielder in Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and Grady Sizemore. Rule 5 selection Odubel Herrea was also in the mix and Francoeur was going to compete for a bench job and part time role.  Even, as a now 31-year old, he was still a plus defender and maintained one of the best arms in the league. Offensively, he was a far cry from the guy who knocked in over 100 runs in back-to-back seasons in 2005-2006. This was a guy who had been in five big league teams in five years along with a couple of minor-league stops as well. A veteran presence to fill a hole on a team expected to lose better than 100 games, that’s the most that was expected, but Frenchy gave them a whole lot more.

His impact was felt as early as April 8. Francoeur hit a three-run homer against the Red Sox to give the Phils their first win of the season.  There would only be 62 more to celebrate. Most of his damage would come off the bench, hitting .367 as a pinch-hitter. But his most memorable appearance of the 2015 season would come as a relief pitcher.

It was June 16, a warm night at Camden Yards. Another classic outing by Jerome Williams, which lasted all of 2/3 of an inning, followed by Dustin McGowan’s 74 pitches over the 3 1/3, put the Phils bullpen in a world of hurt. Frenchy would volunteer his services and take the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning with the team trailing the Orioles 17-3.

He would get through the seventh unscathed, but in the eighth, the usually free-swinging O's, did not cooperate and drew three walks and a hit batsmen off the outfielder, leading to an unexpected 48-pitch outing. During the inning, pitching Coach Bob McClure came out to offer words of encouragement, but instead received a mouthful from former second baseman Chase Utley, who blasted McClure for leaving his teammate hung out to dry. You might also recall that the team attempted to warm another arm up during his appearance but were unable to get through to bullpen coach Rod Nichols because the phone was off-the-hook.

Through all of this and every one of the team’s 99 losses, Franceour was a calming influence on the Philles young group of outfielders including Herrera, Aaron Altherr, and Darnell Sweeney. The veteran played much more than expected, appearing in 119 games, hitting .258 with 13 home runs and 45 knocked in to go along with five outfield assists.  He was having such an impressive season that he was claimed by a contender in August, but the Phillies pulled him off of waivers.

At year’s end, Francoeur and the team showed interest in a return to Philadelphia for the 2016 season, but that will be up to the new president Andy MacPhail and his hand-picked general manager Matt Klentak.


Penalties and sluggish play doom Flyers

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After a slow start against Buffalo on Tuesday, the Philadelphia Flyers vowed to not let the same continue to happen against teams beneath them in the standings. On a night in which the Wells Fargo Center was decked out for Halloween, the Flyers joined in on the fun with a 'scary' opening 20 minutes against the rival New Jersey Devils. 

Goaltender Steve Mason (and the goal post) bailed the team out in the first period in which the Devils out-shot the Flyers 13-7 and pinned them deep in their own zone for most of the stanza. The best scoring chance the Orange and Black had against New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider was a on a failed breakaway attempt by Matt Read in which the second-line left winger missed the net completely. 

 The second period seemed to mimic the first until Luke Schenn slipped a shot past Schneider with 4:56 remaining and the Flyers still being out-shot 20-13. The goal was the first of the season for Schenn who has been in and out of the lineup in the early going. 

An interference call on Scott Laughton led to a Devils power play goal as Travis Zajac potted the equalizer with just 1:48 left in the period. The tally was Zajac's third of the season. 

The Flyers closed the gap in the shots department and ended the period with a game total of 19 (5 by Jake Voracek) compared to 23 for their Metropolitan Division rivals. Although both teams got on the board, the overall tally of $1 hot dogs sold seemed to garner more of a reaction than what was happening on the ice. 

Through 40 minutes, defenseman Michael Del Zotto led all Flyers with 17:32 of ice time while Zajac led the Devils with 14:20. Perhaps as no surprise, Vincent Lecavalier only saw 5:31 as the game entered the third period. 

 After failing to convert on a carryover power play to start the final period, the Flyers gave up the go-ahead goal to Kyle Palmieri just 1:28 into the frame. The goal was Palmieri's third of the season. 

 After a  'Too Many Men' penalty, the Flyers' second of the game, Zajac put the Devils up 3-1 with his second PP goal of the game just 1:04 later.  As it turns out, the goal was just icing on the cake as the Flyers couldn't muster up any offense whatsoever in the third. An empty-net goal by Andy Greene would seal the 4-1 victory for the Devils. 

The Devils finished the game out-shooting the Flyers by a total of 33 to 28 . New Jersey went 2/5 on the PP while the Flyers went 0/2. 

The Flyers return to action tomorrow night as they travel to Buffalo to close out the month of October and try to avenge Tuesday's OT loss in Philadelphia. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

 Zach Hopkins is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @healedbyhockey.


Pickin' on the NFL: Week 8 Vegas Odds/Lines & Picks

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Week 7 in the NFL followed, predictably, the conversation we’ve been having since August. The handful of good teams won as they were expected: the Patriots, Falcons, & Panthers. The bad teams lost as they were expected: the Buccaneers, Lions, Texans, & Browns. Everyone else rolled around in the dirt until someone came out clean(er) than the other guy. Were there true upsets? Not really. Maybe the Chiefs over the Steelers? But was Landry Jones seriously expected to win a road game against a decent Kansas City defense? Oakland winning in San Diego, I guess? But Philip Rivers was due for a shoulder-transplant after that week 5 game in Green Bay. Saints over Colts? They’re both 3-4. That’s hardly an unbelievable upset.

Here’s the point. The NFL has 5-6 teams that can contend this year. The remaining 25-ish teams are also-rans. This isn’t going to be the year where a hot 6-seed wins the Super Bowl. There is a giant leap between the middle-of-the-pack and the good teams. Fortunately, this doesn’t dissuade Vegas from trying to level the playing field by setting the spreads. Here are the Week 8 matchups and some lines that may be leveled in your favor:

Miami at New England (-8): Miami—since firing Joe Philbin prior to their week 5 bye—is playing better, more aggressive, football. They’re 2-0 since that bye week. But before re-labeling them a dark horse AFC contender, look at who they were playing. They beat two teams, in Tennessee & Houston, who are a combined 3-10 on the season. The Patriots are undefeated, at home, and will continue their 2015 F-You Tour on Thursday night.

Detroit (+5.5) at Kansas City: Talk about a couple of letdowns. These two teams (like Miami, above) were largely thought to be playoff bound this season…not so much. If not for beating the 2-4 Bears, Detroit would be winless. If not for beating the 2-5 Texans and the Landry-Jones-led Steelers (in Kansas City, by the way), the Chiefs would be winless. Stafford is ailing and the Chiefs should win the home game, but the points don’t look bad.

Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-7.5): Falcons are winning this game. It is just week seven, but at 6-1, they have already matched their win total from 2014.  So they are winning games for new head coach Dan Quinn.  Aside from the Houston victory, they just aren’t doing it convincingly. They may not get points for winning with flare, but the Falcons are the more talented team. They’ll win with ease.

Arizona (-4.5) at Cleveland: The Browns can’t run the ball. The Browns can’t stop other teams from running the ball. This is an awful combo going against the Cardinals defense & rushing attack, respectively. The Cardinals are going to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and win this game easily.

San Francisco (+9.5) at St. Louis: Time for the Rams to be caught napping. They’re a .500 club because the defense is outstanding & Todd Gurley is something to behold as a rookie. They’re not better than .500 because Nick Foles is average, at best, and the wide receivers are subpar. After being embarrassed at home against the Seahawks last week, the 49ers will be playing for pride. They’ll keep it close, but likely lose on the road.

New York Giants at New Orleans (-3): Saints looking good the last couple weeks, huh? After their South Philly butt-whipping in week 5, they beat an undefeated Falcons team & Andrew Luck’s Colts on the road last week. Those are two solid wins. The Giants, though 4-3 overall, are just 1-2 on the road. New Orleans is a tough place to play. Saints win.

Minnesota at Chicago (Pick ‘em): Three weeks ago the Vikings would have been a 5-point favorite in this game. The game opened at Minnesota (-2.5).  Now, despite the public betting >60% on the Vikings, it’s a toss-up. There’s a lot of faith being put in a healthy Cutler & Jeffery. I like the Bears to win at home mostly because I think Minnesota is one of the “also-rans” referenced above and are due for a let-down loss.

San Diego at Baltimore (-3): The Ravens just keep losing close games. They’ve been the victim of a brutal opening schedule. Five of the first seven games on the road…four of those on the west coast…the other in Pittsburgh. Their only two home games were hosting division rivals. Those games are always tough. This week, they get the Chargers, coming east, in a 1:00 kickoff. Advantage, mercifully, Ravens.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Pick ‘em): The Bengals are the better team. But there is something to be said for the home team that is getting their leader back. Ben Roethlisberger will, presumably, return to the play this Sunday on Heinz Field. That’s an emotional boost that can carry a team. This is one of the two best games of the week and should be a pleasure to watch. Just not sure I can call it one way or the other. I’ll lean towards the home team…but just slightly.

Tennessee at Houston (-4.5): These two teams are a combined 3-10. Houston should win the game if Mariota is out. If he is in, I like the Titans.

New York Jets (-1) at Oakland: I like the Jets here. They’re coming off a hard-fought loss to an undefeated Patriots team in Foxborough. The Raiders beat a 2-5 Chargers team going away. While I believe that Derek Carr & Amari Cooper will be stud pair for Oakland going forward, I know they got shut down by the Broncos defense two weeks ago. This Jets defense is comparable. Jets get to 5-2.

Seattle (-7) at Dallas: So the Cowboys are a mess, huh? At least they have the leadership provided by Greg Hardy & Dez Bryant to pull them through. Seattle, though 3-4, is clearly the better team. The offensive line may get moved around. Russell Wilson will see a lot of the carpet at Cowboys Stadium as a result. Still, I like the Seahawks to win.

Green Bay (-3) at Denver: We’ll be waiting all day for this Sunday Night. They’re both coming off a bye week and will be as rested & healthy as they’ll be moving forward. This is the NFL’s fifth best offense (Green Bay) going against the NFL’s second best defense (Denver). What you may not know is that Denver’s defense is second to Green Bay, in terms of scoring. The Packers may give up yards, but they shut teams out of the end zone: allowing just 16.8 points per game. The Packers are, overall, the better team & are poised to start the season 7-0 after a win at Mile High on Sunday night.

Indianapolis at Carolina (-7.5): After seeing the Panthers first hand last week, it is apparent they are no joke. The defense swarms. The offensive line moved a stellar run defense last week. Jonathan Stewart runs like a tank with a jet motor. The Colts are near the bottom of the league in turnovers & turnover differential. This should be another Panthers win but, again, not sure it’ll be by more than a touchdown.

Official Week 8 Picks Against the Spread:

                Arizona (-4.5) at Cleveland

                San Diego at Baltimore (-3)

                Green Bay (-3) at Denver

ATS Season record: 10-6-1


Top prospect J.P. Crawford to miss remainder of AFL with thumb injury

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Photo: Kevin Durso, Philliedelphia

Update (7:44pm) - According to CSNPhilly.com, Crawford suffered a small tear in the ligament of his left thumb during a game last week in the Arizona Fall League. He is not expected to need surgery and should be ready to go by Spring Training.

"It's a very, very slight tear in the UCL ligament in his left thumb," Jordan said. "It's so slight they had to read the MRI three times to find it. Surgery is not necessary but he is in a splint and will be immobilized for three to four weeks so his AFL season is over."

Continue reading "Top prospect J.P. Crawford to miss remainder of AFL with thumb injury" »


Jordan Matthews frustrated by number of drops, working hard during bye week

Philadelphia Eagles top wide receiver Jordan Matthews is ranked 12th in the NFL with 39 receptions, and he leads the Eagles offense with 398 receiving yards. 

Matthews can have better statistics if he was able to hang on to passes from quarterback Sam Bradford.

According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews has six dropped passes on the season, which is the third most in football. The drops have been a collective problem for the skill position players of the Eagles offense. Philadelphia leads the league with 25 dropped passes.

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Game 9 Preview: Lecavalier makes season debut, Flyers host Devils

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Prior to last season, forward Vincent Lecavalier had never been a healthy scratch in his NHL career. The potential Hall-of-Famer sat 17 times last year and has been in the press box for the first eight contests of the 2015-16 campaign.

In lieu of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s lower body injury, Lecavalier will be inserted into the lineup tonight  as the Flyers play the New Jersey Devils, playing left wing on the fourth line with Chris VandeVelde and Ryan White.

The opening face-off is set for 7 p.m.

Continue reading "Game 9 Preview: Lecavalier makes season debut, Flyers host Devils" »


Season in Review: Jerome Williams, Aaron Harang

 Jerome Williams began the season as a starting pitcher for the Phillies. After a 4-10 start boasting a disgraceful 6.13 ERA, Pete Mackanin decided to move Williams to the bullpen where he was much more effective. In 12 games as a reliever, his ERA plummeted from 6.13 to 3.52, his WHIP fell from 1.656 to 1.304, and his batting average against dropped from .323 to .268.

There were 141 pitchers in 2015 that completed at least 100 innings. Of those pitchers, Williams ranked 23rd in pitches hit with medium or hard speed. He was 24th in terms of most pitches thrown outside the strike zone and 30th in line drive percentage. In other words, when Williams does throw strikes, hitters are squaring the ball up.

If the Phillies were to resign Jerome Williams this offseason, it would have to be strictly as a bullpen arm. However, no one should be shocked if the Phillies allow him to walk away.

Aaron Harang posted a 6-15 record with a 4.86 ERA in 29 starts for the Phillies this season. The 37-year-old was signed to a one-year contract prior to the season and immediately began to exceed expectations. Harang unveiled a 2.51 and 1.62 ERA in the months of April and May, respectively. His success didn’t last long though. His ERA from June on was over 6.80 with injuries partially responsible.

With Harang’s age climbing closer to 40, it’d only be rational to think there’s not much left in the tank. According to Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Harang is contemplating retiring as soon as this offseason. Regardless of his decision, it’d be a surprise to see him in red pinstripes next season.


Voracek Fighting Not to Let Point Drought Bother Him

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Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek has always been far more concerned with his team's record than his personal statistics. Last season, when he led the race for the Art Ross Trophy -- the top scoring player in the NHL -- for much of the season, he inevitably responded to questions about his own numbers by saying that he could not take satisfaction in individual stats when the team was struggling to climb into the playoff picture.

To a large extent, nothing has changed. Voracek still prefers to keep the focus on the team than on himself. Prior to the Flyers' 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, Voracek said that he was happy overall with the club's play to date.

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Start 'Em or Sit 'Em: Week 8

Week 8 is upon us and I have never seen so many injuries this season. Good news? Bye weeks are almost complete. Some big names such as Dez Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger and Jeremy Maclin should all return from injuries soon if not this week.

Here is your Start Em' or Sit Em' for Week 8 with a look back at the results of Week 7.

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