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Scoreless minutes for Trail Blazers at start of Wednesday’s loss to Sixers

Can the Eagles follow the Falcons’ path and reach the playoffs next season? The answer depends on whether they’re trying to win right away or build for the future.

Darren Daulton, who spent 14 seasons with the Phillies, dies Sunday at age 55 after a four-year battle with brain cancer. Daulton, a tremendous leader and extremely popular player, won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997.

Younger drivers should take a more prominent role in this season of change for NASCAR, but a familiar face, Jimmie Johnson, should be in the thick of the race for the overall title, which would be his record-setting eighth championship.

Archive for July, 2016

Phillies Notebook: Deadline dilemma

Posted by Eric Fisher On July - 31 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

The most interesting development regarding the Phillies during the week before Monday’s trade deadline (4 p.m.) is their discussions about Vince Velasquez.

According to reports from Jon Morosi of MLB Network and Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, the Phillies discussed a trade for Velasquez with the Rangers. The Rangers had a scout at Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Braves.

Velasquez is 8-3 this season with a 3.32 ERA in his first season since being acquired from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade. He has 108 strikeouts in 97 2/3 innings. Why would the Phillies trade Velasquez?

The Phillies would probably require a significant return if they moved Velasquez. They may decide that what is being offered is worth more in the long run that Velasquez.

Another reason Velasquez could be available is that he throws too many pitches. Despite a good record and ERA, Velasquez’s average start lasts less than 5½ innings. He may be the Phillies’ best starting pitcher this season, but he doesn’t go deep enough in games to be a true ace.

Pitching depth is another reason the Phillies might be willing to part with Velasquez. Zach Eflin has looked good in most of his starts since being called up, Jerad Eickhoff has pitched well despite a 6-12 record, and the Phillies are banking on Aaron Nola eventually emerging from his funk. Jake Thompson has been excellent in the minors this season, and could be on the verge of getting called up if Velasquez or Jeremy Hellickson is traded.

It should be noted that the Phillies aren’t shopping Velasquez. But it’s interesting that they are actively listening to offers for their best starting pitcher this season.

*****

CONSISTENT HELLICKSON: The most likely Phillie to be traded remains Jeremy Hellickson. With an 8-7 record and 3.70 ERA, Hellickson appears to be a potentially valuable addition to the middle or back end of a contending team’s rotation.

Hellickson’s streak of lasting at least six innings ended at nine after being lifted after 5 2/3 innings Saturday against the Braves, but his consistency is what makes him an attractive trade target.

Unlike the Velasquez situation, in which there is no need to make a deal unless there is a terrific offer, there is some pressure on the Phillies to trade Hellickson. He will be a free agent after this season. Unless the Phillies plan to re-sign Hellickson, which would block the path of a younger pitcher, they need to trade him now or risk losing him for nothing.

Other players who could be traded are closer Jeanmar Gomez, reliever Hector Neris, catchers Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz, and outfielder Cody Asche.

*****

INJURY BUG: The chances of trading Andres Blanco and Peter Bourjos were diminished when both sustained injuries last week. Blanco, a valuable utility player, fractured his left index finger while applying a tag during a loss to the Pirates. The injury required surgery, and Blanco is expected to miss six weeks.

Bourjos injured his shoulder while running into the wall trying to make a catch during a loss to the Marlins. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Phillies deemed a jammed shoulder.

With the injuries to Blanco and Bourjos, no wonder the Phillies were so quick to remove Jeremy Hellickson from Saturday’s win over the Braves in the sixth inning when he reported soreness in the palm of his pitching hand. Hellickson, who was taken out after six innings of his previous start despite throwing just 70 pitches, hurt his palm during an at-bat in the fifth inning. The  injury was considered minor, but, after Blanco and Bourjos were injured, the Phillies weren’t taking any chances.

*****

ALTHERR RETURNS: One reason that Peter Bourjos and, to an extent, Cody Asche are expendable is the return of outfielder Aaron Altherr. After breaking his wrist during spring training while diving for a fly ball, Altherr returned Thursday with three hits, including a two-run homer during a 7-5 victory over the Braves. Altherr’s presence seemed to spark a Phillies offense that had produced one run in the previous two games. The Phillies’ hope is that Altherr and Nick Williams, who could be called up in September when rosters are expanded, will be the long-term answers at the corner outfield positions.

*****

WALK AND RUN: The Phillies scored four runs during the eighth inning of Saturday’s 9-5 win over the Braves without the benefit of a hit. Four Phillies walked during that inning.

*****

THANKS FOR NOTHING: The Phillies returned Rule 5 pickup Daniel Stumpf to the Royals last week. In his short tenure as a Phillie, the left-handed reliever allowed six runs in five innings and was suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

*****

NOLA SETBACK: After a strong outing in his first start after the All-Star break, Aaron Nola regressed in his second and third starts. In his second start after the All-Star break, he couldn’t record an out in the fifth inning of a loss to the Pirates, allowing six runs.

Although he earned the win in his next start, his first in nearly two months, Nola allowed eight hits and three runs in five innings. He walked three batters and hit another while throwing an inefficient 95 pitches. Hopes that Nola had emerged from his summer funk turned out to be premature.

*****

PLAYOFF PICTURE: The playoff races have had some interesting twists in the weeks before the trade deadline. The Blue Jays have vaulted over the Orioles and Red Sox to move into first place in the American League East (through Saturday’s games). The Orioles and Red Sox occupy the wild card positions, but the Tigers and Astros are within 1½ games of the Red Sox, and the Mariners and Yankees are within 4½ games.

In the National League, the Rockies have reeled off five straight wins – and are 9-1 in their past 10 games – to pull within four games of the Marlins and Cardinals, who are tied for the second wild card berth. This could transform the Rockies from sellers into buyers at the trade deadline. Don’t be surprised if Jeremy Hellickson ends up with one of the teams in the wild card race.

*****

PHILLIES ARE DEAD: Tuesday will be Grateful Dead tribute night at Citizens Bank Park, as the Phillies host the Giants. Four dollars from each ticket sold will benefit the Rex Foundation, the band’s non-profit charity. The game takes place one day after the birthday of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995. Because the Dead’s home base was San Francisco it’s also appropriate that the game is against the Giants.

*****

WESTERN FRONT: The Phillies’ first 15 games in August will be against team from the National League West. After an off-day Monday (trade deadline day), the Phillies will host the Giants from three games, then will hit the road for three games apiece against the Padres and Dodgers. After the West Coast trip, the Phillies will return home for a nine-game homestand that begins with series against the Rockies and Dodgers.

Heel Turns: Draft paying early dividends

Posted by Achilles Heel On July - 29 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Achilles HeelThe promises were kept. At least for one week.

No, not the promises from the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The Greek God of Wrestling isn’t naïve and gullible, as are so many of the simpletons who form the audience for these four-day political rallies. (More on the conventions later in Heel Turns.)

The promises Achilles Heel is referring to is that the focus of RAW and Smackdown would be on the wrestlers. For the first week of the brand split, RAW and Smackdown lived up to that promise.

RAW featured two four-way matches, with the winners meeting to determine who would meet Seth Rollins for the newly created WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam. Finn Balor won the first four-way match, defeating Rusev, Kevin Owens and Cesaro. Roman Reigns beat Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Sheamus in the second four-way match. In the main event, Balor surprised Reigns to earn the title shot.

Having Balor triumph in the first and last match of the night in his RAW debut was awesome, but it may not have been the highlight of the night. Sasha Banks’ victory over Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship was a tremendous match that was given the time and treatment it deserved.

In other RAW matches, Nia Jax made her main roster debut after being drafted from NXT, and Braun Strowman had his first match since being separated from the rest of the Wyatt Family by the draft. Both won squash matches, but, again, the focus was on the wrestlers.

Smackdown also promised to focus on the wrestlers instead of the authority figures. There also was a promise of opportunity. Smackdown delivered on both counts.

Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan announced five competitors for a six-pack challenge, with the winner to face Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship at SummerSlam. The sixth competitor would be decided by a battle royal.

Apollo Crews took advantage of this opportunity by winning the battle royal to earn a berth in the six-pack challenge. And then Dolph Ziggler was the surprise winner of the six-pack challenge, continuing the theme of taking advantage of an opportunity. As a believer that Ziggler, despite being used primarily to enhance other wrestlers’ careers the past year or two, could be propelled back into the championship picture, Achilles Heel views Ziggler’s elevation to the Smackdown main event at SummerSlam as a pleasant surprise.

Opportunity will knock next week for American Alpha, consisting of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan. The NXT team will make its WWE in-ring debut next Tuesday.

It’s only one week, but, thus far, the draft appears to have freshened up  and re-energized RAW and Smackdown, with both shows following through on their promises.

*****

BATTEGROUND REVIEW: Battleground was overshadowed by the draft two nights later, but there were some developments worth noting. Dean Ambrose retained the WWE Championship (or WWE World Heavyweight Championship, depending on the night) by defeating Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, with Ambrose pinning Reigns. This protects Rollins, who is contention for the newly created WWE Universal Championship.

Bayley was Sasha Banks’ surprise partner against Charlotte and Dana Brooke. Bayley received a huge ovation from the live crowd, which was extremely happy when Bayley and Banks prevailed. (Could there be a six-woman team of Bayle, Banks and Biddle in the future?)

Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens tore the house down with the best match of the night. This match was magnificent. It built from a solid start to a thrilling conclusion, with the crowd reacting to every move. There was a time when wrestlers such as Zayn and Owens may not have been welcome in WWE. Today, they are two of the best performers on the roster.

Becky Lynch and Natalya had the unenviable task of following Owens and Zayn. But they did just fine. Kudos to both women for putting together a solid 10-minute match (won by Natalya) that kept the crowd’s interest after an amazing display by Owens and Zayn.

*****

VIPER RETURNS: Randy Orton returned at Battleground for an entertaining segment with Chris Jericho on The Highlight Reel. Jericho is terrific in these situations, but Orton more than held his own. Before hitting an RKO on Jericho to end the segment, Orton took a shot at SummerSlam opponent Brock Lesnar by saying he would beat him with an RKO – with no enhancement necessary.

The Greek God of Wrestling wondered last week if Orton would bring up Lesnar’s positive drug tests in UFC. We received our answer at Battleground.

Orton, who is returning from a shoulder injury, was also good on Smackdown, interrupting Miz TV before defeating the Miz in a non-title match in his first match in nine months.

*****

CHEERS AND JEERS: Achilles Heel liked how the RAW and Smackdown locker rooms were shown watching the Battleground main event between the former members of The Shield. The reactions, with each brand rooting for its wrestlers, made the WWE Championship seem important. When Dean Ambrose won, the Smackdown roster ran down to congratulate him.

I liked how Randy Orton didn’t enthusiastically join the celebration. Instead of rushing to the ring, Orton’s enthusiasm seemed more reserved, climbing into the ring after almost everyone else and remaining on the fringe of the celebration. That behavior is consistent with his character.

On the other hand, Jimmy and Jey Uso lifted Ambrose on their shoulders to celebrate his victory. Didn’t Ambrose just pin Roman Reigns, the Usos’ cousin? Haven’t they been stressing those family bonds for the past year? Having them front and center in the celebration didn’t make sense.

*****

THE REAL DEAL: Did you see Bayley’s smile when the crowd erupted at the announcement that she was Sasha Banks’ partner at Battleground? Did you see Banks’ tears after she defeated Charlotte for the WWE Women’s Championship on RAW? Even Randy Orton couldn’t suppress a smile at the crowd’s reaction to his return.

People accuse professional wrestling of being fake. But, if we’re talking about emotion, professional wrestling is very real.

*****

GLORY DAYS: In case you haven’t found TNA since it moved from Tuesdays, it’s now on Thursday night. The quarterfinals and semifinals of the Bound for Glory playoffs have already taken place. The final will be between Ethan Carter III and Mike Bennett.

*****

FREE FOR ALL: Combat Zone Wrestling will hold a free television taping on Sat., Aug. 13 (2 p.m.) at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. The pilot episodes for CZW’s television show will be taped.

Later that night (8 p.m.), CZW will present “The Boss is Back” at Flyers Skate Zone. In the main event, Matt Tremont will defend the CZW World Championship against Joe Gacy. Lio Rush will defend the CZW Wired Championship against John Silver.

*****

CHIKARA RETURNS: After a pair of shows last weekend in Toronto, CHIKARA will be off for a few weeks until returning to The Wrestle Factory for “No One’s First, Andy You’re Next” on Sun., Aug 21 (3 p.m.), serving as a live warmup for those who will then go home and watch SummerSlam on WWE Network later that evening.

Princess Kimberlee, the CHIKARA Grand champion, will face Heidi Lovelace in the main event. Among the other announced matches is Eddie Kingston vs. Jakob Hammermeier.

*****

AUGUST HEATS UP: CHIKARA isn’t the only organization with a show during SummerSlam weekend. Ring of Honor will present Death Before Dishonor XIV on Fri., Aug. 19 in Las Vegas, with a television taping the following day. Jay Lethal will defeat the Ring of Honor World Championship against Adam Cole at Death Before Dishonor.

NXT Takeover takes place in Brooklyn the night before SummerSlam. Shinsuke Nakamura will challenge Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship in the main event. There also will be an Evolve show that Friday in Joppa, Md., with Cody Rhodes’ first match after leaving WWE coming against Zack Sabre Jr.

More complete details on these shows, as well as SummerSlam, will appear in August editions of Heel Turns.

*****

TOURNAMENT UPDATE: Zack Sabre Jr. displayed his innovative style while defeating Tyson Dux during a first-round match Wednesday during the Cruiserweight Classic. Sabre will face Drew Gulak, who beat Harv Sihra, in the second round. Sabre’s creativity and Gulak’s classic technical style should create an excellent and intriguing match.

In another match from Wednesday’s show, Brian Kendrick played a heel during his submission victory over Raul Mendoza, who won over the crowd with some incredible high-flying moves, including a corkscrew plancha to the floor and a coast-to-coast dropkick from one corner to the other, where Kendrick was hanging upside down from the top turnbuckle. Kendrick will battle the impressive Tony Nese, a winner Wednesday over Anthony Bennett, in the second round.

Next Wednesday’s Cruiserweight Classic show on WWE Network will feature the final four matches of the first round, including Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Chiampa in a battle between tag team partners.

*****

SLATER A FREE AGENT: After Heath Slater went undrafted, The Greek God of Wrestling explained how this could be a positive development for Slater, who could present himself as a hot free agent. That’s exactly the road WWE took during Smackdown.

Another storyline I praised was Cesaro being unhappy being drafted so late, as well as being drafted by RAW. Cesaro continued to build this angle during the Battleground preshow, using a question about the Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn match to complain about not having a match at Battleground.

*****

FAMILIAR FACES: During the Heath Slater angle on Smackdown, Rhyno made his return, hitting Slater with a gore. Another wrestler returning to Smackdown is Shelton Benjamin. Achilles Heel always felt that Benjamin never quite achieved what he could have in WWE, and is happy to see him back.

*****

CONVENTION COMPARISON: In his column this week, Eric Fisher listed similarities between the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center and Eagles training camp. Considering that the Greek God of Wrestling wrote about how Donald Trump seemed to be using his experience with WWE to benefit his campaign, I decided to list a few similarities between the political conventions and professional wrestling, which is a better comparison than Fisher’s comparison to Eagles training camp.

Let’s start with the U-S-A! chants, which frequently broke out at the Republican convention and also occurred at the Democratic convention. Trump’s initial entrance at the Republican convention was straight out of WWE, which he sort of acknowledged later that week  during an interview, saying WWE chairman Vince McMahon congratulated him on the entrance.

The raucous crowds at both conventions were also reminiscent of pro wrestling crowds. When Texas Senator Ted Cruz wouldn’t endorse Trump during his speech, the crowd booed. The “Bernie!” chants at the Democratic convention were almost as persistent and loud as the “Yes!” chants for Daniel Bryan. There were also tons of signs at both conventions, particularly the Democratic convention. One difference is that wrestling fans bring their own signs. Many of the signs at the Democratic convention were handed out by the Democratic party.

Finally, Bill and Hillary Clinton may have topped Mick Foley in generating “cheap pops.” Foley usually only mentions one city on each show, but it almost seemed as if the Clintons had a contest to see how many different states and cities they could name during their respective speeches, eliciting applause from the delegations from each state they mentioned.

 

Every out of Roy Halladay's playoff no-hitter