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Phillies: Plugging 2021's Holes in Progress

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

While the Philadelphia Phillies execs quietly resolve on-field shortcomings, their fans panic at problems, real and perceived; but ineffectiveness due to streaks, injuries, and growing pains affect the numbers. Temporarily! So, a hot April hitter can cool off in May, and a dominate starter can hit a rough patch.  

 

May, June and July:

Some Phillies faithful expect the club to fail due to weaknesses, but all franchises have warts. Moreover, an injury-plagued season after an abbreviated campaign means at least 20 organizations have a decent playoff shot, and the Fightins are in that group, doubting Thomases. 

IN OTHER WORDS:

“It is better to believe than to disbelieve; in doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.” - Albert Einstein

At April’s end, center field and the eight hole were causing some locals and media types to panic. It was as if the Phils had to acquire a high-caliber glove, arm and bat to save the 162. No, it wasn’t the only issue; it was the highest nail to hammer.    

In the end, Odubel Herrera received the call-up on April 26 even though he hadn't faced major league pitching for two years due to a suspension and the pandemic. Beginning on May 5, though, he hit .314 to month’s end after only 24 at-bats. Overall, he’s dropped from .264 to .247 because he’s streaky: no surprise there.      

Herrera, a .280 hitter, has a .311 average with a .364 OBP leading off: a get-on-base role. Yes, he’s doing that even though his average has dropped. But he’s on base at a 36.4 percent clip to begin a frame.  

Continue reading "Phillies: Plugging 2021's Holes in Progress" »


Week 11 Recap: Who Are You, and What Have You Done With the Union?

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It was a wild outing for the Union against the Chicago Fire, and a tie was a pretty generous result given the admittedly poor quality of play from the Union in this game, but a point is a point.

Things got off to quite the disastrous start when Jakob Glesnes handed Chicago a 1-0 lead with an own goal in just the second minute. Even worse, this didn’t light a fire (no pun intended) under the Union to push for an equalizer. Sloppy passing, an inability to maintain possession, and severe disorganization plagued the visiting side, rendering them unable to move the ball deep into the Fire’s half.

It was shockingly uncharacteristic of the Union to play so carelessly and lethargically against an opposition. It seemed as though they knew that Chicago was at the bottom of the table and in abysmal offense form, and subsequently decided that they didn’t need to try as hard to win this game.

However, a bright spot came in the form of Quinn Sullivan, who put the Union level with a simply astonishing bicycle kick. The goal, which came in his first start for Philadelphia, made 17-year-old Sullivan the youngest goalscorer in Union history.

Then, just before halftime, Cory Burke slotted the ball into the bottom corner of the net to give the Boys In Blue a 2-1 lead at the break. It wasn’t the most comfortable of leads, and the Union’s shaky playing wasn’t guaranteeing that they could hold on to it, but it was better than trailing.

The Fire wasted no time in raining on the Union’s parade with an equalizing goal from Boris Sekulic in the 56th minute. A flurry of scoring chances from both sides and yellow cards for mainly the Union ensued, immersing this match into a soggy bout of chaos.

In a moment straight out of a horror movie, the unthinkable happened—Chicago took the lead. An effort from Mauricio Pineda seemed to seal the Union’s fate as the scoreline ticked up to 3-2, and the offense looked to be in no position to take a goal back.

Sekulic found himself on the scoresheet once again, but this time for the visitors, when a ball deflected off of his bicep and right past goalie Bobby Shuttleworth to level the game 3-3. Both sides went on an intense hunt for the only goal that seemed to be left in the game, and Jamiro Monteiro nearly found it in the closing minutes of the game, but Shuttleworth was able to just knock it out of play. Chicago had no luck finding the back of the net again either, and the game ended in a 3-3 draw.

Man of the Match: There’s actually a rule in MLS where you have to give MOTM to the 17-year-old who scored a perfectly hit bicycle kick on a sopping wet field during his first start for his team (becoming the team’s youngest-ever goalscorer), so Quinn Sullivan it is.

The Main Takeaway: If it wasn’t glaringly obvious before, it is now. The Union need Alejandro Bedoya on the field. He manages the midfield and keeps players from straying away from the ball. He’s vocal and pushes his teammates to put pressure on the opposition defense. He always moves the ball forward, without the frivolous and superfluous touches that so often rob the Union of goals. It was necessary to rest Bedoya, seeing as this was the Union’s third game in six days, but this game showed just how much he’s needed.


Week 11 Preview: Union vs. Chicago Fire

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

There are no easy games in MLS, but with the Union having won four of their last five games and sitting in third in the Eastern Conference, while the Chicago Fire are on a three-game losing streak and sit rock bottom in the Eastern Conference standings, it’s difficult not to bet on the Union for this one.

To put it simply, this matchup is not even in any sense of the word. In the most glaring discrepancy between the two teams, the Union boast one of the most effective offenses in the league, including Kacper Przybyłko, Jamiro Monteiro, and Alejandro Bedoya, while the Fire have failed to score in six of their nine league games in the 2021 season. The Fire were going to have their work cut out for them breaking through the Union’s back four anyway, but their poor offensive form certainly doesn’t make things easier.

Given that Chicago aren’t exactly a major threat to the Boys In Blue, it’s quite likely that Jim Curtin will rest some of his regular starters and give significant minutes to the younger guys that have been used to fill the bench or make late-game substitute appearances. Curtin started 17-year-old Jack McGlynn against Columbus Crew on June 23, along with substituting Matt Real and Quinn Sullivan on late in the game.

This would be the perfect opportunity for Curtin to make good on his insistence that Homegrown players will continue to play an important role in the Union’s first team, following the astronomical success of Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie last season. The Fire won’t be the biggest challenge for these young men, but it will be an excellent way for them to show off their individual skills, along with getting a better look at how they fit into the team as a whole.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake; Kai Wagner; Jakob Glesnes; Jack Elliott; Olivier Mbaizo; Leon Flach; Paxten Aaronson; Jack McGlynn; Jamiro Monteiro; Sergio Santos; Kacper Przybyłko

  • Jose Martinez is still away on international duty, while Anthony Fontana is unavailable for selection after suffering a concussion in the Union’s June 20 match against Atlanta United. This could be Aaronson’s chance to step up and show what he’s made of in the midfield. A linkup with McGlynn (who impressed against Columbus) could fortify the Union’s famous diamond formation even further, as the two have history playing together.

Score Prediction: Again, it would be unwise to label this game as an easy win, seeing as anything could happen after kickoff, but the Fire are in consistently poor form, while the Union have well and truly hit their stride. A youthful presence in the starting 11, the back line that only seems to get more invincible with every game, and the tried-and-true striker pairing of Przybylko and Santos will see the Union cruising out of Soldier Field with a 3-0 win.


Phillies Cut Ties With Hale, Call Upon Veteran Feliz

When reliever David Hale entered Wednesday's game against the Washington Nationals, Phillies manager Joe Girardi had a choice: Either Hale would enter the game then, or he would enter the game in a late inning.  Girardi chose the former, and the results were disasterous.   Hale, the club's mop up reliever, allowed all three inherited runners to score, as well as three of his own.  The Phillies front office had seen enough.

The Phillies announced several moves today, perhaps most notably that Hale's contract has been designated for assignment.  The Phillies will have 10 days to release, trade, or outright Hale off of the roster.  Hale can reject an outright assignment to the minor leagues.

The Phillies also placed reliever Sam Coonrod on the 10-day Injured List.  The diagnosis is right forearm tendinitis.  Coonrod was the pitcher responsible for the bases loaded on Wednesday ahead of Hale.  He issued three walks and seemed to lack command.

The Phillies will give veteran reliever Neftali Feliz a look in the bullpen.  Feliz was a one-time closer with the Texas Rangers, but has not pitched in the major leagues since 2017.  The Phillies are promoting Feliz after 15 games at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where Feliz was an impressive 2-1 with a 1.26 earned run average for the IronPigs.  In his major league career, Feliz has a 3.49 earned run average and 107 saves in 357 games.

Nick Maton will also re-join the Phillies, taking Coonrod's spot on the roster.  It has not been 10 days since Maton was optioned to Triple-A, but with an injury a club may make an exception to the rule.   Maton's demotion Wednesday was to make room for Matt Moore, who will start one of today's games in New York.

Finally, Enyel De Los Santos will join the Phillies as the 27th man for the doubleheader.  

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Rejoice! Kelly Green Can Return...But When?

EaglesPicture: Via @Eagles/Twitter

Uni geeks such as I rejoiced when it was announced that the NFL would eliminate the “one shell” rule allowing for the return of alternate helmets and throwback uniforms.  Images of Bucco Bruce, Pat the Patriot, and the beloved Kelly green Eagles set danced through my mind like a kid thinking of what Santa is bringing to the house on Christmas morning. But unbridled joy was quickly squashed like a finding out your parents were really Santa.

According to Pro Football Talk, NFL teams can use an alternate helmet now that the “one shell” rule has been changed however the “notice date” for teams to make uniform changes for the 2022 season has passed.  Teams will be allowed to wear an alternate helmet color, but they won’t be able to have a complete new set of uniforms for the season. 

Major bummer. So, what does this mean for the Eagles? 

Continue reading "Rejoice! Kelly Green Can Return...But When?" »


Week 10 Recap: It's Been 612 Days...

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

Subaru Park was back at full capacity for the first time since 2019, and this author finally made a correct score prediction as the Union took home three points against Columbus Crew.

When the first half kicked off, the Union admittedly were not playing like the Union. Sloppy defense, a virtually nonexistent midfield, and a helpless strike force made for a hard-to-watch performance. Andre Blake was forced into some truly spectacular saves, and although not able to maintain it for very long, the Union’s midfield was able to hold possession for long enough to stave off the Crew’s offense for the first 20 minutes of the game.

Things started to pick up for the Union’s offense when a header from Cory Burke sailed over the top of the net, and, soon after, Jamiro Monteiro was able to slot a low ball through the legs of a Columbus defender and their goalkeeper, putting the Boys In Blue ahead 1-0.

It should also be noted that two of the Union’s most famous Homegrown players, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, came home to Subaru Park to watch the game. A very emotional moment to see them in the stadium that made them for the first time since departing for Europe in January, and a reminder to Union fans everywhere of just how much skin their team has in the MLS and on the international stage.

Then, in a fitting birthday present for manager Jim Curtin, the Union were able to hold off Columbus’ notoriously skilled strikers to collect another clean sheet for Philadelphia (so much so that Jack Elliott made it into the MLS Team of the Week this week!) While several set pieces and scoring chances could have put the Union up by more than just the one goal, the 1-0 scoreline held to keep the Union in third place in the Eastern Conference, behind Orlando City on just goal differential.

Man of the Match: This one is going to have to go to Andre Blake. If it weren’t for his Superman-esque heroics, the initially disorganized defense could have easily cost Curtin’s men the game before halftime.

The Main Takeaway: The Union have well and truly hit their stride in the league, and are taking every opponent seriously. If they can score early, it gives them the necessary drive to keep their energy at 100% the rest of the game. The game plan must include persistent pressing from the first whistle, scoring early, and always moving, thinking critically, and staying alert even when they’re not with the ball.


Week 10 Preview: Union vs. Columbus Crew

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By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

It’s a battle at the top of the MLS Eastern Conference, as the third place Union take on fourth place Columbus Crew, who sit just one point behind Jim Curtin’s men.

Both teams hit their stride right before the international break, collecting three consecutive wins before having three weeks off. Philadelphia have a game in hand, a dramatic 2-2 tie with Atlanta United, and will be looking to move above Orlando City in the Eastern Conference (the two teams are separated only on goal differential). Columbus, on the other hand, will be looking to break into the top three of the table.

Although they looked like they were struggling against Atlanta, the stoppage time heroics of Jakob Glesnes proved that the Boys In Blue will fight until the final whistle, no matter the scoreline. While it would be ideal for them to have that kind of drive outside of moments where it’s desperately needed, it will come in handy against a tough Columbus side.

The main matchup will be the butting of heads between the Union’s star striker Kacper Przybyłko and Columbus’ veteran forward Gyasi Zardes, as both teams boast a formidable offense, and will have their work cut out for them trying to break through the midfield.

Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake; Jack Elliott; Olivier Mbaizo; Kai Wagner; Jakob Glesnes; Leon Flach; Anthony Fontana; Alejandro Bedoya; Jamiro Monteiro; Cory Burke; Kacper Przybyłko

  • Jose Martinez is still away on international duty with Venezuela, so it’s likely that Fontana will fill in the midfield while Martinez is unavailable. Curtin will also want to put his best foot forward offensively against Columbus, and with Sergio Santos coming off at halftime against Atlanta with an apparent leg injury, it’s the safer option to bring in Burke.

Score Prediction: The Union’s defense kept Columbus from finding the back of the net during the teams’ first meeting during MLS’ opening weekend, and they’ve only gotten more solid, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they did it again. However, this doesn’t mean that the Union will run away with this game. It’ll be a hard-fought 1-0 win for the Union.


Phillies on 2021 Buyer’s Path

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

Playing .600 ball is the formula the Philadelphia Phillies execs would prefer to exceed the CBT (competitive-balance threshold) by up to $20 million and/or plug their glaring holes by late July. But the players can handle their postseason aspirations with their bats and gloves. Three weeks down, six to go!

 

A Healthy Opportunity:

While the Phillies faithful annually want to go for even long shots, no organization has infinite resources or desires wasteful spending, as New York Yankees supporters are finding out in ‘21. However, health and changed rules midstream will be X factors along with pressure on the stars as the trading deadline approaches. 

IN OTHER WORDS:

“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline.” - Nolan Bushnell

Barring long-term injuries, the Fightins’ offense depends on the regulars producing up to their track record. Granted, Alec Bohm is probably not a .338 hitter in 2021, but he’s also not a .233 bat either. Plus Odubel Herrera is a .280 hitter who can flip-flop in the lineup with Andrew McCutchen, when the need arises.                    

In the playoffs, clubs only require four hurlers, and Vince Velasquez would match up against other four-slot arms. But Velasquez is neither the developing pitcher from recent seasons nor the one during a May streak. No, hitters now expect other offerings besides his fastball in crucial spots, but his results will be acceptable.                           

Continue reading "Phillies on 2021 Buyer’s Path" »


Ben Simmons Must Go

Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Ben Simmons’ non-dunk heard-around-the-world finished a promising but ultimately unsatisfying season for the Philadelphia 76ers. With under four minutes left to play in a tightly contested game seven, the Sixers guard inexplicably chose to pass the ball rather than convert an easy dunk. Simmons’ head-scratching decision was one of many mistakes he made throughout an absolutely disastrous series for the guard that left fans wondering if Simmons’ days in Philadelphia are numbered.

Despite another strong effort from center Joel Embiid, the Sixers surrounding cast failed to mount a consistent offense. On a night when Atlanta’s wunderkind point guard Trae Young appeared uncharastically out-of-sync, the Sixers showed no sense of urgency and watched a late 4th quarter lead slip away. 

After the game, Embiid alluded to Simmons’ non-dunk as the turning point in the game. 

“I don’t know how to say it...but I thought the turning point was we had an open shot, we missed and we made one free throw.” 

A visibly annoyed Embiid raised his hands after Simmons decided to flip the ball to Matisse Thybulle rather than make an uncontested dunk. For Simmons, the series marked a new low in his up and down career in Philadelphia. At times he was hesitant, indecisive, and seemed to lack the killer instinct needed in the NBA. Simmons, much-maligned by fans and sports talk radio, proved the naysayers correct last night by his late-game implosion. One is left to wonder if at this point a parting of the ways is best for both Simmons and the Sixers organization. 

Not since former Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz have we witnessed an athlete in this city suffer from such a profound collapse of confidence. Like Wentz, Simmons seemed to live too much inside his head during the Atlanta series, second-guessing even the most obvious basketball moves. During crucial times the Sixers guard seemingly didn’t want the ball. This is the most unforgivable sin in a city like Philadelphia, where we applaud grit over style. Last night, Simmons had neither. 

While Simmons’ play personified the Sixers playoff meltdown against the 5th seeded Hawks, he wasn’t the only one culpable for their post-season early exit. Sixers first-year head coach Doc Rivers appeared disengaged last night, remaining seated during an important time out late in the 4th quarter. The Sixers were consistently beaten with mismatches and Rivers never succeeded in lighting a spark for his team. 

Too often, Atlanta was able to mount huge comebacks in this series. The Hawks rallied for a successful 20-point comeback in game 4 and a mind-numbing 24-point comeback in game 5. Doc Rivers must take the blame for failing to make proper 4th quarter adjustments and his inability to close out games. 

But this series will be remembered for the inept play of Simmons. At times, Atlanta reverted to the “hack-a-Ben” approach, fouling the Sixer guard who boasts a notoriously low free-throw percentage. This approach proved successful, as Simmons seemed to wilt at the free-throw line. 

Simmons backers draw attention to his defensive skills, and in truth, he is one of the best man-to-man defenders in the league. But can we continue to be satisfied with such a one-dimensional player? His free-throw percentage lingers at a CYO rec league level. His flat out refusal to take jump shots is surreal and makes him a liability on the court. And then during game seven, his inside game, arguably his biggest strength, disappeared in the final minutes. 

One is left to ask: what can Ben Simmons actually do on the court?

A trade is necessary, but it’s difficult to imagine general managers clamoring for Simmons after last night’s disastrous performance. And yet, it’s also hard to imagine the Sixers making any future progress with him. 



-Brian Francis Smith


Week 9 Recap: Jakob Glesnes' Left Foot. That's It. That's the Headline.

By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer

The Union looked like they were headed for a devastating loss against Atlantia United, but heroics from striker Cory Burke and center back Jakob Glesnes salvaged a draw, and therefore a point, for the Boys In Blue.

The first half saw a pretty even distribution of possession, but Atlanta unquestionably had better and more plentiful scoring opportunities. Andre Blake was forced into some nervy saves, but was able to keep Atlanta from finding the back of the net in the first 45 minutes.

The Union’s best chance came from Anthony Fontana, who had Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan all but beat, but a lucky deflection off of Guzan’s foot kept the Union scoreless. Sergio Santos went down multiple times in the first half due to an apparent leg injury of some sort, furthering the team’s offensive woes.

The Union’s main problem in the first half was their inability to maintain possession. Atlanta’s defensive strategy seemed to be less of maintaining a uniform back line, and more assigning one Atlanta player to cover a Union player, effectively suffocating the midfield, and not allowing creators like Jamiro Monteiro and Alejandro Bedoya any room to get the ball forward.

Both teams went into halftime scoreless, and Jim Curtin was forced to take Santos off in favor of Cory Burke once the second half kicked off. However, once the second half began, so did the Union’s problems.

Kacper Przybyłko got on the scoresheet in the 58th minute, although not in the way he wanted. In an attempt to deflect a cross from Atlanta’s Anton Walkes, Przybylko headed the ball past Blake, putting Atlanta up 1-0. Things were then looking quite hopeless for the Union after an 83rd minute goal from Walkes seemed to seal the 2-0 fate of the game, but the Union weren’t done just yet.

Just one minute after the Five Stripes’ second goal, Burke took advantage of a ball that slipped out of Guzan’s grasp to put the Union back in the game with a 2-1 scoreline. Seven minutes of stoppage time ensued, guaranteeing nail-biting suspense for fans of both teams.

Then, in an automatic contender for Goal of the Season, Jakob Glesnes caught a pass from Jamiro Monteiro and sent it rocketing into the back of Atlanta’s net, leaving Guzan no choice but to flounder as the ball bounced off of the crossbar and past the goal line. It wasn’t pretty, but the points where shared in a 2-2 draw.

Man of the Match: Glesnes. Obviously.

The Main Takeaway: It’s eternally frustrating when the Union can’t seem to get it together until they absolutely have to in big games like this, but credit must be given where it’s due. Going down 2-0 in the last ten minutes of regular time could’ve easily depressed the spirits of the Union, but they fought with a vengeance until the very last minute. If they can show more of that urgency and fire throughout the entire 90 minutes, the Union won’t have any problems overcoming whatever opposition teams throw at them.