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MLB Commissioner: Shutdown Possible

Rob_Manfred_7-15-2014Photo by Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA - FanFest 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

We knew that the Phillies would not be playing baseball on Friday night.  But they are not alone.  Six teams will not play Friday night, after two St. Louis Cardinals players tested positive for COVID-19.  With 20% of the league not playing due to COVID-19 concerns, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stated what perhaps is obvious: Major League Baseball could shut down.

Jeff Passan of ESPN reports that Manfred approached the MLB Players Union with a threat: follow protocol or shut down:

Should another outbreak materialize, Manfred, who has the power to shut the season down, could move in that direction. Multiple players briefed on the call fear that season could be shut down as soon as Monday if positive tests jump or if players continue not to strictly abide by the league's protocols.

This comes after compliance offers have become mandatory for teams.

Unlike the NBA or NHL, MLB is mostly using teams' own home stadiums and relying upon cooperation from players.  The outbreak among the Miami Marlins, is perhaps related to players leaving their hotels to go out in Atlanta, where the Marlins played the Braves in a preseason game.   Passan quotes a source saying "some bad decisions are being made".

A reported 18 players and two coaches on the Marlins have tested positive for COVID-19.  Perhaps related, one Phillies coach and two Phillies staff members have tested positive as well.  That has led to Citizens Bank Park being shut down.  That means that the Phillies will not play this weekend, either.

As things stand, the Phillies will travel to New York on Monday to begin four games against the New York Yankees.  The Phillies reportedly will make up their missed games against the Yankees during a period in which they would be scheduled to play the Marlins.  The Phillies announced on Friday that there were no positive COVID-19 tests from yesterday's testing.


Flyers Confidence Has Not Wavered with Defensive Pairings

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

When things are going as well as they were going for the Flyers before the pause hit on March 12, you don’t try to do too much to change what is working. It’s how the Flyers came to have a consistent group of forwards and defensemen in games with the only changes coming when injuries required it.

Shayne Gostisbehere only made it back into the lineup when Phil Myers went down with a knee injury. Joel Farabee, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Nate Thompson were all in the lineup when James van Riemsdyk suffered a fractured finger.

But leading up to that, defensively, the Flyers were consistent with their pairings. For the entire season, Ivan Provorov has played alongside Matt Niskanen. Given their chemistry and experience together in the AHL, Travis Sanheim and Myers have played together. And eventually, Robert Hagg settled into a role next to Justin Braun

So when training camp started a couple weeks ago and the Flyers started to work back to where they were before the pause, the pairings remained the same and they have been unchanged since then. Alain Vigneault said he doesn’t plan to change them anytime soon.

Continue reading "Flyers Confidence Has Not Wavered with Defensive Pairings" »


"Unleashed With Mitch Williams" Podcast ft. STP Writer Greg Hall

By Greg Hall, Sports Talk Philly editor

Earlier this week, STP writer Greg Hall had the chance to co-host the debut episode of a new podcast with former Phillies legend Mitch Williams.

Unleashed with Mitch Williams is Williams' first time back in the media in roughly six years after being let go by the MLB Network and the subsequent lawsuit that kept him off the air.

In the maiden voyage, the guys talk about Williams' absence, Rob Manfred's handling of Major League Baseball since the start of the pandemic and, of course, the Fightin' Phils performance before being shut down this week.

The video version is above, but if you prefer an audio-only feed, here are some links:

APPLE PODCASTS https://apple.co/3jPpmPc

ALL DEVICEShttps://castbox.fm/vd/292834614


SOME GOOD COULD COME FROM THIS YET

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Safe to say that things in baseball haven’t gone as planned.  The Phils played all of three games last week and it’s still unclear when and if they’ll play a fourth.  The Marlins?  Well, they’re the Marlins.  You knew that if this were going to happen to anybody it would happen to them.  Still, they’ve so disrupted everybody else in the eastern divisions that right now both of them are complete chaos.

And yet.

And yet. 

If we’re looking for positives in this 2020 baseball season here’s a big one: the fever grip of stubborn intractability that has had a death grip on the game for over a century has loosened.  Substantially.  It’s had to.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and all that.  Who knows what will happen once things return to normal.  But maybe now baseball has been freed to fix itself at last.

For decades the game remained obstinately opposed not only to grand change but to even the smallest tweaks.  This is part of its charm but also a large cause of its downfall from its peak way back in the 1950s.  While the NFL’s competition committee meets every year to recalibrate its game, sometimes substantially, baseball has been content to put the same game on the field in perpetuity regardless of whether game action is up, down, or non-existent.  Baseball’s last major change – the designated hitter – is nearing the half-century mark and we’re still debating it. 

The pandemic has made a mockery of that sort of mindset.  It was just a few months ago that baseball was hard-headedly working to figure out a way to somehow shoehorn 162 games into a world that had fundamentally changed overnight.  For the longest time Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, and everybody connected with the game acted like baseball didn’t really exist within the world the rest of us were struggling to adjust to; that despite the fact that toilet paper had become a scarce commodity the Red Sox were going to play a full season no matter what.

That mindset was absurd back in April but you couldn’t convince baseball of that.  Today, however, it’s a radically different story.

Baseball came kicking and screaming to the current 60-game season, moaning about this, that, and the other thing, but now that we’re here it’s much more open to experimentation and change.  Rescheduling series on the fly and seven-inning doubleheaders weren’t changes made because baseball wanted to make them but because it had no other choice.  And the world didn’t end as a result.  Thinking back over the past few weeks it’s clear that changes are being implemented now after much less hemming and hawing.  Let’s hope this continues going forward.

I’m as much of a traditionalist as anybody but some of these changes have me interested in the game in a way I haven’t been for a while.  It took only those three nightmarish games against Miami to remind me of all that has annoyed me about baseball as it had existed prior to the pandemic – long, boring games, little action outside of home runs, a dearth of strategy.  Now, however, we’re going to get seven-inning games every once in a while.  Finally, I’ll be able to make it from start to finish without turning off the set to head up to bed.  (True, I’ll only get to see one of the two scheduled games but I’ll take it.)  The game’s still pretty boring but if we make it to extra innings we’ll see a runner on second to lead off the 10th – a situation that begs the team at-bat to play situational baseball rather than sit back and wait for the long ball.  It’ll baseball as it was played in the 1970s and ‘80s.  I can’t wait.  Throw in the stirrups and sanitary hose and I’m in heaven.

And the season itself – 60 games, 53 games, whatever – gives each contest a sense of urgency it never had before.  Sure, once this all ends baseball will undoubtedly return to its traditional 162 game schedule but maybe it might be open to breaking up the season into segments or pausing the season for a round-robin tournament of some sort. Who knows.  There’s more than one way to play 162 games.  Who says they have to be played the way they’ve been scheduled since 1962?  Baseball says, I guess.  Or at least that’s what it’s said up to now.  But maybe going forward it will be open to looking into how to put a little more excitement, a little more life, into its schedule.

The likelihood is that baseball, being baseball, will refuse to learn from the laboratory experiment that the 2020 season is going to be and will stick its head back in the sand in 2021, returning to us the game we’ve been increasingly dissatisfied with for years now.  But maybe it won’t.

Baseball should have learned once Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron on the all-time home run list that numbers are just that.  They don’t mean all that much in and of themselves.  They’re not what gives the game legitimacy or provide it with integrity.  In fact, its all-time home run leaderboard, populated as it is with the likes of Bonds, Sosa, and ARod, suggests the opposite.  Once we’re comfortable with the fact that the numbers, as numbers, don’t tell us all that much, we’re freed from the strictures of the game’s historical structure.  Then we can focus on making the game fun and exciting rather than simply the same. 

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now.  Buy it and read about a guy who stirred baseball's pot in his own way, breathing life into the game when it so badly needed it.


Phillies and Blue Jays Reportedly Will Not Play this Weekend

2020-07-14 15.23.07

The bad news continues for the Phillies.  After the Phillies had already canceled their games for the rest of the week, the Phillies will have to postpone more.  After two more members of the organization tested positive for COVID-19, there are more off days in the Phillies future.

Word came from SportsNet Canada that the Blue Jays and Phillies will not play this weekend.

Jon Heyman follows this up with a report that the Blue Jays players have been told, but there is "no official word" yet.

The postponement means that the Phillies have now missed four games against the New York Yankees and will miss three against the Toronto Blue Jays.  That is seven games total in a 60-game season, not an insignificant amount.

The series against the Blue Jays was to take place at Citizens Bank Park because the Canadian government would not allow Toronto to play games at home. Ultimately, the Blue Jays decided that Buffalo, New York will be the site of their home games.  However, they are not ready to host major league baseball yet.

So far there have been no positive tests from Phillies players since the Miami Marlins visited down, but the virus could have been passed via staff.  A Phillies visiting clubhouse employee reportedly tested positive before the reported coach and other staff member have.    The delay in time it takes to accurately tests can easily throw the testing process and season into doubt.

16 Marlins players and two coaches have reportedly tested positive for the virus.


Flyers Announce Initiative to Bring ‘Home Ice’ to Fans

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(Photo: Kevin Durso/Sports Talk Philly)

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

There was some sense of normalcy when the Flyers took the ice on Tuesday against the Penguins. Through the last week or so, live sports have been making their return again. Leagues such as the NHL are doing this under the safest of conditions that you can find in today’s world, and even that is not completely fool-proof.

That said, there was a hockey game on Tuesday. The Flyers came away with the win and even though the game didn’t count for anything in seeding or standing or playoff series tallies, there was sure to be some cheering and celebration happening in living rooms across the Philadelphia region.

That is obviously the biggest difference when it comes to these playoffs. The Flyers are one of 24 teams in two cities in Canada on the quest for the Stanley Cup. They will not be playing at Wells Fargo Center now or anytime soon, and there are not going to be any fans present.

On the surface, it wasn’t very noticeable -- a game without fans. The NHL set the stage by covering the empty seats with branding materials and visual screens that will see more extensive use once the Round Robin and qualifying rounds begin on Saturday. The sounds of the game were crisp. Teams goal horns and songs and crowd noise were pumped into the arena, but it wasn’t overpowering and allowed the game to tell the story. Sure, there were a few new camera angles we aren’t used to seeing -- usually due to fan’s sight lines at a live game -- but otherwise, it felt normal with the one exception of not being there to root for your team.

The Flyers are trying to change that, however. On Thursday, just a few days ahead of their first Round Robin game against Boston, the Flyers announced an initiative that will bring the home ice experience to fans in their living rooms.

Continue reading "Flyers Announce Initiative to Bring ‘Home Ice’ to Fans" »


Ready to Play, Provorov Emerging as Leader, ‘Stud’ for Flyers

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(Photo: Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

For most players, the pause meant a long time away from even stepping on the ice. Ivan Provorov was one of the exceptions.

Provorov was able to find an ice surface while spending the quarantine with his billet family near Wilkes-Barre. So it should be no surprise, after just two weeks of training camp, that Provorov jumped right back into his usual role in the Flyers 3-2 overtime win in an exhibition against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Provorov played 25:39 in the game.

“Not going to lie, I felt pretty good out there,” Provorov said on Wednesday. “I think the tempo is great. I think our team did a great job playing fast and play our game from the puck drop. I think we just played the same way we played in March.”

Continue reading "Ready to Play, Provorov Emerging as Leader, ‘Stud’ for Flyers" »


Phillies, NL East: National Predictions for 2020

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the doubting Thomases among the Philadelphia Phillies fan base, these forecasts validate their thinking, and a five-game struggle (not losing streak) by mid-August (22 contests) will have some searching for the exit. Last year, it took two months. 

 

Masked 60:

Since 2012, some Phillies faithful consider the National League East predictions with a shrug. However, Atlanta Braves fans were upset by one 2019 forecast of 79 victories. They finished, though, with 97 triumphs, so one site had dramatically underestimated them.

IN OTHER WORDS:

“Perhaps the safest prediction we can make about the future is that it will surprise us.” - George Leonard

With the rescheduled four games against the New York Yankees, hope temporarily avoided a wound. But it demonstrated the fragility and luck of a 60-contest season amid the pandemic. Now, the MLB is adding new safeguards after one franchise had four positive tests for COVID-19 before the series finale.                   

Besides the normal injuries, players will tweak something due to hurriedly getting ready for ‘20 from a late summer-camp start or will catch the coronavirus itself. Ergo, missing stars can change an organization’s fortunes after Opening Day or during the final two weeks of September.

2020 Predictions:

  • One: FanGraphs
  • Two: Davenport
  • Three: Pecota (Baseball Prospectus)
  • Four:  FiveThirtyEight
  • Avg.1: RotoChamp (Avg. of 1-4)
  • Avg. Wins of 1-5

 

NL East

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR  

AVG. 1  

AVG. WINS

Nationals 

33-27  

33-27  

32.9-27.1  

34-26

33-27

165.9 = 33.2 

Braves

33-27

32-28

30.4-29.6

32-28

32-28

159.4 = 31.9

Mets

33-27

31-29

32.2-27.8

32-28

33-27

161.2 = 32.2

Phillies

30-30

30-30

28.3-31.7

29-31

29-31

146.3 = 29.3

AL East

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

AVG. 1

AVG. WINS

Yankees

34-26

36-24

36.5-23.5

36-24

36-24

178.5 = 35.7

Rays

33-27

33-27

32.4-27.6

33-27

33-27

164.4 = 32.9

Red Sox

30-30

30-30

30.0-30.0   

30-30

31-29

152.0 = 30.4

Blue Jays

28-32

28-32

28.3-31.7

27-33

27-33

137.3 = 27.5

 

Rotations:

Despite a 1-2 record, the red pinstripes’ five-man staff with Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler compares favorably to Atlanta’s and the New York Mets’ hurlers. Basically, Wheeler with a newborn son and Nola looking to better his 2019 stats will likely be extra careful healthwise.     

General manager Matt Klentak had Vince Velasquez and Spencer Howard starting on the same day. Translation: 2-3 poor outings by Velasquez could open the bullpen gate for him to join Nick Pivetta. Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin round out the rotation.    

While the Washington Nationals’ staff is the same, Stephen Strasburg had felt hand numbness for weeks during throwing sessions even before camp 2.0. And he will miss his second start also due to tingling in his thumb during light throwing. For now, this leaves the Nats with Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin atop the rotation.   

NL East  Rotations:

  • Nationals: Stephen Strasburg (thumb numbness when pitching).
  • Mets: Noah Syndergaard (out for 2020) and Marcus Stroman (out until early August with a calf muscle tear).
  • Braves: Cole Hamels (45-day IL) and Mike Foltynewicz (DFA).

After Jacob DeGrom, the Metropolitans numerically from ‘19 have Steven Matz (4.21 ERA), Rick Porcello (5.52 ERA) and Michael Wacha (4.76 ERA). Ergo, DeGrom and Stroman are their one-two punch, while the others have only had slightly better campaigns recently: This is who they are now.    

Atop the Braves’ five-man staff, Mike Soroka (35 starts) with a 2.68 ERA and Max Fried (40 starts) with a 4.02 ERA head the five-man staff with those 2019 stats. And the rest of the rotation has minimal experience except for Sean Newcomb (54 starts), unless Jhoulys Chacin, their waiver claim, with a 5.79 ERA slots fourth.

Bullpen:

With 11-12 relievers per team, the quality level of the bottom three or four are middle-relief and mop-up hurlers. But fretting by the locals about the 11th man isn’t necessary: It’s also an issue for the Phillies divisional rivals. And relievers including closers normally have control problems like Velasquez and Pivetta.                                            

For the Phils, Hector Neris will have Adam Morgan, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, and Pivetta to set him up. And if they’re healthy, they could be roughly 10th in the majors after being at the midpoint in ‘19 despite eight injured relievers. Plus the best three of the other six will continue unless rosters remain at 30.    

Again, the Nationals will be counting on Sean Doolittle to close if his velocity returns, or Daniel Hudson can duplicate his effectiveness after joining the club at the trading deadline. Plus Will Harris and Tanner Rainey are handling setup duties for Washington, while their other arms work middle relief. Will they be lucky again?                       

NL East  Relievers:

  • Phillies: David Robertson (unknown) and Seranthony Dominguez (out for the year).
  • Nationals: Roenis Elias (45-day IL)
  • Mets: Robert Gsellman (IL due to triceps) and Brad Brach (10-IL through Aug. 3).

At the back of the Mets’ pen, closer Edwin Diaz (5.59 ERA) and Jeurys Familia (5.70 ERA) will try to bounce back from last year, but they haven’t in the early going. And they have Seth Lugo, Justin Wilson, and offseason acquisition Dellin Betances --who couldn’t handle closing-- to set up the seventh and eighth innings.               

In Atlanta, closer Mark Melancon (balky back) made his 2020 debut on July 29, and signed closer Will Smith just came off the COVID-19 IL (injured list). But it’s Melancon’s job to lose: a strong possibility. Ergo, their setup men Luke Jackson and Shane Greene had filled in. 

Offense:

The Phillies nine looks solid: Andrew McCutchen (RH), Rhys Hoskins (RH), Bryce Harper (LH), JT Realmuto (RH), Didi Gregorius (LH), Jean Segura (RH), Jay Bruce (LH), Scott Kingery (RH), and Adam Haseley (LH) or Roman Quinn (SH). Yes, Hoskins --needing coaching-- must do more than accumulate free passes. 

The Fightins have scored five runs per game so far, and they have the starting staff and relief corps to win more than they lose. That stated, staying healthy (McCutchen) and regaining form (Hoskins) could raise their average runs per game to between five and six runs.                     

After having inconsistent coronavirus test results, Juan Soto will return after he receives the city’s clearance. And even though they depend heavily on their pitching, the loss of Anthony Rendon alone is problematic, but Soto has missed summer camp and their first six contests (2-4): a lot to overcome.  

New York (NL) has a solid offense, but they aren’t strong defensively. Basically, first sacker Pete Alonso enters ‘20 with high expectations he may not be able to meet, and he may press to duplicate his 53 bombs from ‘19 or their equivalent of 18 in 60 games: Will Mets fans understand?                            

Returning with little time in camp, Freddie Freeman had struggled until their sixth contest. Eventually, he’ll get enough at-bats and make NL moundsmen pay: later rather than sooner (I hope). But remember, they picked up no one to replace Josh Donaldson’s bat as well.        

To reiterate an earlier comment, pushing back four games against the Yanks after a difficult first series is good fortune for now. And Joe Girardi has reset the rotation beginning in New York: Nola, Wheeler, Arrieta, Eflin and Velasquez.

Providing the Phillies continue with negative testing, they’ll restart their truncated campaign against the Bombers in Gotham. But while the circumstances are less than ideal, what is the one thing you can do now after only three games? Scoreboard watching! 

 

NEXT:

Spencer Howard’s Odds for When

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Eagles Place First Player On Reserve/COVID-19 List

Embed from Getty Images

By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

On Tuesday, the Eagles got their first blow to the roster dealt by COVID-19 as veteran receiver Marquise Goodwin opted out of the season.

On Wednesday, the team was dealt their second blow.

The NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson was placed on the COVID-19 list.

Continue reading "Eagles Place First Player On Reserve/COVID-19 List" »


Phillies Add Three to Player Pool

By Greg Hall, Sports Talk Philly editor

The Phillies have announced the additions of RHP Adonis Medina, IF Bryson Stott and IF/OF Austin Listi to the club's 60-man player pool. All three will report to the team's alternate training site in Lehigh Valley.

Medina, a top pitching prospect, struggled in 2019 to the tune of a 4.94 ERA with only 82 strikeouts across 105 2/3 innings (22 games) for Double-A Reading. He is already on the team's 40-man roster.

Stott, the club's first-round pick in 2019 out of UNLV, had a strong professional debut, posting a .295/.391/.494 slash in 193 Single-A plate appearances. While Stott was a collegiate draft selection, the chances are a bit more slim of him making an impact in 2020, especially given the infield depth the Phillies currently have.

Listi, a 17th-round selection in 2017, has some appeal given the 19 homers he hit between Double-A and Triple-A last season and his ability to play the corner infield spots as well as the outfield. A right-handed hitter, Listi has perhaps the highest chances of the three to contribute at the major-league level in 2020.