Saves by Carter Hart during Flyers’ 3-1 triumph over Blackhawks

It’s unlikely the Flyers will be Stanley Cup contenders this season, but watching their prospects during the preseason convinced Eric Fisher that the Flyers’ future looks extremely bright.

The emotional tributes to catcher Carlos Ruiz this past week at Citizens Bank Park were wonderful, but they, along with the release of Ryan Howard by the Braves, were also reminders that the heroes of the 2008 World Series championship team are at the end or twilight of their careers.

The Chicago Cubs overcame several obstacles and setbacks to win Game 7 over the Indians, 8-7, in 10 innings, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit and capturing their first World Series title since 1908.

Archive for March, 2017

WrestleMania 33 preview

Posted by Achilles Heel On March - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

There should be a little something for everyone at WrestleMania 33. There are men’s matches and women’s matches. There are singles matches, tag team matches, a triple-threat match, a fatal four-way elimination match, a six-pack challenge match and a battle royal.

There are matches for the WWE Championship, Universal Championship, United States Championship, Intercontinental Championship, tag team championship, women’s championships and Cruiserweight Championship. There is a ladder match, a non-sanctioned match, and an inter-gender tag team match.

If there is a problem with WrestleMania 33, which will broadcast live from Orlando on Sunday (preshow at 5 p.m., main card at 7 p.m.) on WWE Network, it’s that there is too much on the show. Last year’s WrestleMania was too long. Not only did it start at 5 p.m., but the main event went until nearly 11:25 p.m., long past the customary ending time of somewhere between 10:45 and 11 p.m. The crowd seemed burned out by the time Triple H and Roman Reigns stepped into the ring for the main event.

How can WWE avoid the burnout this year? With 13 matches and the likelihood of some interviews and guest appearances, it will be difficult. If the right matches are given the time, however, WrestleMania 33 could be a terrific event.

So come along with the Greek God of Wrestling as he guides you through WrestleMania 33.


(WWE Universal Championship)

Story: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the basic storyline. Goldberg returned to WWE last fall after a 12-year absence and shocked Lesnar by defeating him in 1 minute, 24 seconds. Goldberg got the better of “The Beast” again in the Royal Rumble, eliminating him from the Royal Rumble match. The stakes have been raised for this match because Goldberg defeated Kevin Owens at Fastlane earlier in March to win the WWE Universal Championship.

Analysis: This match should draw the most reaction from the crowd, but nobody should expect this to be a wrestling classic. Goldberg’s matches with Lesnar and Owens haven’t featured more than three minutes of wrestling – combined. But the crowd should be stirred up just by having these two megastars in the ring together 13 years after their WrestleMania XX match, which occurred as both wrestlers were departing WWE. At best, this could be a 10-minute match remembered for ages, sort of like Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. Let’s hope that Lesnar can pull it off.

Prediction: Goldberg has had the advantage in this feud. It’s time for Lesnar to get his payback. Lesnar is part of the future, so it makes sense for Lesnar to capture the championship. The question is whether they can put together a good 10-minute match. If not, Lesnar could win with a performance as dominating as Goldberg’s win over him at Survivor Series. Achilles Heel would have Goldberg hit a spear and jackhammer early to excite the crowd, but have Lesnar kick out of it.


(WWE Championship)

Story: Last fall, Randy Orton, frustrated at his lack of success battling the Wyatt Family, shocked people by joining the Wyatt Family. The Greek God of Wrestling suggested at the time that Orton would try to break up the Wyatt family from within, and that’s exactly what happened. Tension built between Orton (left) and Luke Harper, with Harper eventually being exiled from the family by Bray Wyatt. After Wyatt won the WWE Championship in February in the Elimination Chamber match, Orton initially vowed loyalty to Wyatt and said he wouldn’t challenge him at WrestleMania, which he had the right to do as the winner of the Royal Rumble. Orton changed his mind in spectacular fashion, burning down the Wyatt compound that includes the remains of “Sister Abigail,” from whom Wyatt draws his strength. The story got weirder a week later when Wyatt covered himself in Abigail’s ashes.

Analysis: This match has both the grudge element of a family feud and the high stakes of the WWE Championship being on the line. Orton is an excellent wrestler with loads of big-match experience. Wyatt, perhaps because of his body shape, is an underrated wrestler. This should be a very good match. It has the potential to be a great match.

Prediction: Orton certainly could win the WWE Championship. A championship run could be a reward for the vicious beating Orton absorbed from Lesnar at last year’s SummerSlam. There could even be a build toward a champion vs. champion match between Orton and Lesnar at SummerSlam. Another possibility is that Wyatt retains the title with the help of “family.” Instead of Harper, however, it could be Bo Dallas, who is Wyatt’s real-life brother and has been growing a beard over his smiling babyface. Wyatt could say that now he has “real” family by his side. The Greek God of Wrestling would have Orton win the WWE Championship, but think WWE is going to go with the latter scenario. If Baron Corbin wins the Intercontinental Championship, however, it would make it more likely that Orton would win this match, preventing the top two titles from behind held by heels.


Story: This feud started when Reigns eliminated Undertaker at the Royal Rumble and then proclaimed, “This is my yard!” The battle over which big dog controls the yard has been the theme in this feud, with a little bit of Braun Strowman thrown into the mix.

Analysis: When was the last time Undertaker (left) had a bad match at WrestleMania? Despite the segment of the fan base that doesn’t like Reigns, this should be a terrific match. Undertaker is 52 years old, but he knows how to get the job done on professional wrestling’s biggest stage.

Prediction: Most fans won’t want to hears this, but Achilles Heel thinks Undertaker is going to put over Reigns. There isn’t much value to Undertaker defeating Reigns. There is a possibility that Strowman gets involved in the finish. Undertaker made his recent return in Chicago when Strowman called out Reigns. Instead, Undertaker came to the ring. Strowman backed off on that night, but he could get revenge at WrestleMania. This would also allow Reigns to challenge Lesnar for the Universal Championship, making it a battle between the only two men who have defeated Undertaker at WrestleMania.


Story: With the blessing of The Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon), Rollins became WWE champion at WrestleMania 31, cashing in his Money in the Bank championship opportunity during a match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. His title reign ended when he blew out his knee, tearing his ACL. Rollins has to relinquish the title and missed last year’s WrestleMania. He worked hard to recover, but lost to Finn Balor for the newly created WWE Universal Championship, the top title on Raw after the brand split. But a shoulder injury to Balor led to Rollins behind handed the championship. Eventually, though, Triple H betrayed Rollins, helping Kevin Owens defeat Rollins to become champion. Triple H and Stephanie also put Rollins in a situation in which he lost his spot in the Royal Rumble; therefore, being denied a shot at the Universal Championship. Rollins injured his knee – both in storylines and in real life – the night after the Rumble during an attack by Triple H henchman Samoa Joe. The story is that the doctors haven’t cleared Rollins. He signed a contract that absolves Triple H of any blame if he is permanently injured at WrestleMania 33.

Analysis: Rollins is one of the best in the ring, but there are questions as to whether his knee is fully healed. Making this match a grudge match protects Rollins’ knee somewhat because there will be a fight rather than a match in which he will use a bunch of wrestling moves. Expect Samoa Joe to get involved. Outside interference is almost a given during a Triple H WrestleMania match.

Prediction: Unless Rollins is going to have surgery and be on the shelf for a few more months, it doesn’t make any sense to have Triple H prevail.


Story: Styles, frustrated at not having a WrestleMania match, attacks Shane during Smackdown a few weeks ago, and slams his head through the window of a car. Shane then grants Styles a match at WrestleMania, naming himself as the opponent. Styles won a match to earn a title shot against Bray Wyatt, only to have Randy Orton declare that he would use his Royal Rumble win to challenge Wyatt. Styles and Orton squared off, with Orton winning a terrific match and challenging for the title. Styles blamed McMahon for forcing him to “prove” himself again, which cost him a title shot at WrestleMania.

Analysis: Styles has been, if you’ll pardon the expression, “phenomenal” since joining WWE. He was the best wrestler in WWE during 2016. Let’s see what kind of match Styles can pull out of Shane, who has had some memorable matches, most of which involved some sort of gimmick. This is supposed to be a straight-up wrestling matchup, which doesn’t seem to play to Shane’s strengths, but Styles has lived up to his phenomenal nickname, so expect this match to be good.

Prediction: Styles has to be the winner.


(United States Championship)

Story: Where do we begin? Jericho and Owens were the most entertaining duo in WWE for the past six-plus months. The “best friends” had tremendous chemistry, producing outstanding interviews and drawing in fans. More than a few times, Jericho saved Owens from losing the WWE Universal Championship. But Owens turned on Jericho in brutal fashion during Jericho’s “Festival of Friendship” in February. Jericho got revenge by distracting Owens at the start of his Fastlane match against Goldberg, creating an opening for Goldberg to take the title from Owens. Owens has sworn he will get revenge at WrestleMania by taking the United States Championship from Jericho.

Analysis: This could be the best match at WrestleMania. Both Jericho and Owens know how to get a reaction from the crowd. Both are also excellent wrestlers. This should be an incredible mix of physicality, emotion and technical expertise. In the end, the Greek God of Wrestling sees Owens leaving with the United States Championship.


(Raw Women’s Championship)

Story: Bayley defeated Charlotte for the Raw Women’s Championship, breaking Charlotte’s perfect record in title matches at pay-per-view events. Sasha has helped Bayley retain her title on a few occasions, seemingly without Bayley’s approval. Charlotte has implied that Banks is planning to stab Bayley in the back and capture the title.  Nia Jax is the monster, with no allegiance to anyone. That point was driven home Monday after a tag team match in which Bayley and Sasha beat Charlotte and Nia. Jax destroyed her opponents and then attacked Charlotte.

Analysis: At WrestleMania 32, Sasha, Charlotte and Becky Lynch put together a terrific match that earned a spot in Eric Fisher’s list of the best WrestleMania matches in history. This match has the potential to be as good as that one. It’s an elimination match, so there are several possibilities.

Prediction: The logical finish would pit Bayley against Sasha. Bayley could win, which could lead to Sasha attacking her after the match or the next night on Raw. It’s also possible that Banks wins the title at WrestleMania, cheating to pin Bayley. Truthfully, it’s possible that any of the four participants wins this match, which is one reason it’s so intriguing and should get a good crowd reaction. The Greek God of Wrestling is going to pick Bayley to retain the title.


(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

Story: Everyone is feuding with everyone else. This has been a circular feud, with partners turning on each other at every turn. Nobody can trust anyone else.

Analysis: This could be a fun match. Lynch and Natalya are excellent wrestlers, Mickie James still is good in the ring, Naomi has athleticism and charisma, and Alexa is improving. Carmella has personality and a great finishing hold, but not much else.

Prediction: Naomi had to give up the title due to an injury she sustained while defeating Bliss. Now that she’s healthy, expect her to regain the Smackdown Women’s Championship in her hometown of Orlando.


(Intercontinental Championship)

Story: Corbin and Ambrose clashed in the Elimination Chamber match in which Bray Wyatt won the WWE Championship. Corbin subsequently attacked Ambrose in a parking lot and crushed him with a forklift.

Analysis: This match is overshadowed by some of the other title matches, but Ambrose should be able to get the crowd involved. Corbin moves well for a big man. Expect a brawl that, hopefully, will get the crowd involved.

Prediction: Corbin burst on the scene last year by winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32. The “lone wolf” took a step up by eliminating Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble. He looked good in the Elimination Chamber match as well. Corbin will culminate his one-year ascension in WWE by winning the Intercontinental Championship.


Story: This match has received some of the hottest buildup for WrestleMania. The real-life married couple of Miz and Maryse has skewered Cena and Nikki, including doing a mean-spirited spoof of “Totally Bellas,” a spinoff of “WWE Divas.” They have presented Cena (left) as a self-centered control-freak phony who is using Nikki to enhance his image.

Analysis: Maryse hasn’t wrestled in a WWE ring for several years, and she wasn’t very good when she used to wrestle. But if Cena and Miz control most of the action, Nikki could probably get the most out of Maryse in short bursts. This match should generate a lot of heat from the crowd.

Prediction: Cena, who has been making increasingly more television appearances, is supposed to be taking some time off to make a movie. That should point to a victory for Miz and Maryse, but Miz isn’t going to pin Cena clean. Either Maryse – or Nikki, by accident – causes Cena to get pinned by Miz or the dastardly Miz delivers a move on Nikki, allowing Maryse to get the pin.


(Raw Tag Team Championship)

Story: Amore and Big Cass have yet to capture gold in WWE. Gallows and Anderson captured the titles from Sheamus and Cesaro, a mismatched team that seems to be on the same page now.

Analysis: Gallows and Anderson have been dull champions, but they could be effective foils for Amore, Cass and Cesaro in this match.

Prediction: Enzo and Big Cass taste gold for the first time.



(Cruiserweight Championship)

Story: Neville has proclaimed himself “King of the Cruiserweights.” He backed this claim up by capturing the title. Aries, who has been handling broadcasting duties after suffering an eye injury during an NXT match with Shinsuke Nakamura, challenged Neville for the championship.

Analysis: Aries and Neville are both outstanding wrestlers. Achilles Heel hopes the crowd gives this match a chance. It should feature tremendous action.

Prediction: Neville retains the title, although it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Aries wins.


Story: Unfortunately, most of the wrestlers in this match seem to be there because they have nothing else to do. There are some minor feuds, such as Smackdown Tag Team champions Jimmy and Jey Uso and former championships Jason Jordan and Chad Gable, or Dolph Ziggler vs. Mojo Rawley and Apollo Crews, but there are very few potential winners.

Analysis: Sami Zayn dedicated this match to fired Raw general manager Mick Foley, but Zayn is a long shot to win this match. Samoa Joe could be a late entrant in this match. Even if he’s not, he may cost Zayn a victory. Ziggler is another long shot. Mark Henry could win as sort of a career achievement award. Chinese prospect Tian Bing could throw out some people to make a splash, but it’s doubtful that he would win. Big Show could become the first two-time winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but he probably won’t win.

Prediction: Braun Strowman seems like the obvious winner. Unless Strowman and Big Show take each other out of the match, Strowman should win. A wild card winner could be Luke Harper, if he enters, but the Greek God of Wrestling would have Strowman dominate this match and emerge the winner.


This is always an awesome night. The headliner this year is Kurt Angle, the former Olympian who transformed himself into an exceptional professional wrestler. Angle hasn’t been in WWE in 10 years, so this should be an interesting acceptance speech.

The other inductees include Diamond Dallas Page and the Rock ‘n Roll Express, all of whom briefly appeared in WWE but enjoyed wonderful careers in other promotions. The outspoken Jim Cornette’s induction speech for Robert Gibson and Ricky Morton (the Express) may be one of the most anticipated moments of WrestleMania weekend. Cornette managed the Midnight Express, the main nemesis for the Rock ‘n Roll Express.

Other inductees include former WWE Divas champion Beth Phoenix, jack-of-all-trades Teddy Long and the late Ravishing Rick Rude.


TAKING OVER ORLANDO: NXT will also hold a major event in Orlando on Saturday, the day before WrestleMania 33. NXT Takeover: Orlando will feature Bobby Roode defending the NXT Championship against former champion Shinsuke Nakamura. Asuka will defend the NXT Women’s Championship against Ember Moon, and The Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) will defend the NXT Tag Team Championship in a triple-threat elimination match against The Revival (Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder) and DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa). Added to the card this past week was Aleister Black’s NXT debut against Andrade “Cien” Almas, and SAnitY (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, Killian Dain and Nikki Cross) against Roderick Strong, Tye Dillinger, No Way Jose and Ruby Riot.


SUPERCARD ON INTERNET: You no longer have to be in Lakeland, Fla., on Sat., April 1 to view Supercard of Honor XI (6 p.m.), headlined by the highly anticipated Ring of Honor Tag Team Championship ladder match between Matt and Jeff Hardy and The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson). The event will be available as an Internet pay-per-view through rohwrestling.com.

Supercard of Honor XI also includes a Ring of Honor World Championship match between Christopher Daniels, who defeated Adam Cole to win the title at Ring of Honor’s 15th Anniversary show, and Dalton Castle. Cole will challenge Marty Scurll for the Ring of Honor World Television Championship in an heel vs. heel matchup. There also will be a bullrope match between Jay Lethal and Cody Rhodes.

(For a thorough rundown of wrestling events in Florida prior to WrestleMania, please see the previous edition of Heel Turns.)


PHILLY IS A BATTLEGROUND: During Raw at Wells Fargo Center on Monday, WWE announced that Battleground will be at Wells Fargo Center on July 23. Battleground will be a Smackdown pay-per-view. The announcement is surprising because Philadelphia has already been announced as the host city for next year’s Royal Rumble, as well as NXT, Raw and Smackdown in the days before and after the Rumble.

(Undertaker and John Cena pictures by Eric Fisher of PhillyPhanatics.com. Please don’t use these pictures without crediting the photo to Eric Fisher/PhillyPhanatics.com)


Phillies preview: Building for the future

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 30 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

That’s the proper criteria for judging the Phillies this season.

It’s not about making the playoffs or finishing above .500. Both of those accomplishments would be pleasant surprises, but this season is about being better than last season and identifying which players should be part of the team’s future.

There is a lurking suspicion that some of the players on the roster are not part of the future. They are merely placeholders until prospects are ready to rise from the minor leagues.

So, as we examine the 2017 Phillies, let’s evaluate whether or not players are part of the Phillies’ future.


Future: Jerad Eickhoff was a hard-luck 11-14 last season. With a 3.65 ERA, Eickhoff probably deserved better, but the Phillies didn’t provide him with much support. There isn’t enough evidence to make a final determination, but, despite getting tagged for six runs in 2/3 innings by the Yankees during his final spring training start, Eickhoff looks like he’s part of the future rotation.

Placeholders: The Phillies signed Clay Buchholz with the hope that they can flip the 33-year-old at the trade deadline for something more valuable for their future. He hasn’t given many signs during spring training (1-2, 5.94 ERA) that he will bring the Phillies much in return. Jeremy Hellickson, the opening day starter, also doesn’t appear to be in the Phillies’ long-term plans. They re-signed him to a one-year, $17.2 million contract during the offseason. The price makes him expensive, but a contract that expires after this season might be attractive to a contending team in need of a reliable arm at midseason. Hellickson turns 30 years old next week.

Phillies-Nola3The jury is still out: Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola (left) have displayed promise, yet neither has cemented a spot as part of the Phillies’ future. Nola, the seventh overall selection in the 2014 draft, was 6-2 after getting called up during the 2015 season, but dipped to 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA last season while experiencing elbow issues. Nola dodged surgery and says he’s healthy, but his 0-3 record and 8.38 ERA during spring training doesn’t inspire confidence. There were reports last season that the Phillies were shopping Velasquez. That’s because Velasquez rarely lasts six innings, and often didn’t make it through the fifth. He throws far too many pitches, which puts a strain on the bullpen. Velasquez must learn to harness his ability and learn to pitch effectively or else he won’t be part of the future rotation.

Waiting in the wings: Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Ricardo Pinto, Drew Anderson.


Future: Who knows? Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos might stick around for a few years. Neris was 4-4 last season with a 2.58 ERA. Ramos was 1-3 with a 3.83 ERA. They are as close as the Phillies have to long-term options in the bullpen.

Placeholders: Joaquin Benoit, who may end up as the closer this season, will turn 40 years old in July. Pat Neshek is 36. There are pitchers the Phillies added to the bullpen during the offseason.

The jury is still out: Jeanmar Gomez was the closer last season before fading down the stretch. His final record was 3-5 with a 4.85 ERA and 37 saves in 43 opportunities. Gomez may be best-suited for a bullpen role other than the closer. Can Adam Morgan make the transition from starting pitcher to long reliever or is he merely biding his time until he gets a starting opportunity? The jury isn’t even close to coming to a verdict on left-hander Joely Rodriguez.

Waiting in the wings: Who knows? It could be Velasquez if he doesn’t learn how to pitch deep in games.


Future: Nobody – for now.

Placeholder: Cameron Rupp could appear in the future category as well. Rupp is only 28 years old. He batted a solid .252 last season while producing 16 home runs and 54 RBI. But, with Jorge Alfaro waiting in the wings, Rupp might simply be a placeholder until Alfaro is ready.

The jury is out: Andrew Knapp beat out a couple of veterans to earn the backup catcher position. Batting .222 during spring training hardly cements the 25-year-old Knapp as par tof the future.

Waiting in the wings: Jorge Alfaro.


Future: Nobody – for now.

Placeholder: None.

The jury is still out: Tommy Joseph made quite an impression last season, slugging 21 home runs and driving in 47 runs in just 107 games. But less than two-thirds of a season doesn’t earn you a likely spot in the future. Furthermore, Joseph’s on-base percentage was only .308 and he hit a lot of solo homers. Joseph will have to improve his on-base percentage and continue his success for a longer period to earn a place as part of the future. The jury is, obviously, still out on Brock Stassi, who completed a long journey to the major leagues by earning a spot on the 25-man roster with a fantastic spring training.

Waiting in the wings: Rhys Hoskins


Future: Nobody

Placeholder: Cesar Hernandez led the Phillies in batting average (.294) and triples (11) last season, but he appears to be viewed as a placeholder, perhaps until Freddy Galvis moves over from shortstop.

The jury is still out: Hernandez could appear in this category as well.

Waiting in the wings: Scott Kingery


Future: None

Placeholder: Slick-fielding Freddy Galvis is supposedly just keeping the seat warm for J.P. Crawford, who could ascend to the majors as soon as this year. Galvis hit 20 home runs last season and produced 67 RBI, but his on-base percentage was an atrocious .274. Galvis could become a backup when Crawford reaches the majors, or he could start at second base.

The jury is still out: Nobody.

Waiting in the wings: J.P. Crawford.


Phillies-Franco throwsFuture: Maikel Franco (the Phillies hope).

Placeholder: Versatile veteran Andres Blanco will continue to back up Franco until someone shows they can do it better.

The jury is still out: Maikel Franco (left) is already a good player. He led the Phillies in home runs (25) and RBI (88) last season. But he only batted .255 and had a .306 on-base percentage. Franco was very inconsistent, putting together torrid streaks but also enduring long droughts. Franco will have to show more than that to get the big-money, long-term contract that he surely will expect in the coming years. The Phillies must decide whether he’s worth that type of contract.

Waiting in the wings: Nobody is going to unseat Franco if he develops consistency at the plate.


Future: Odubel Herrera enjoyed a breakout season last year, batting .286 and leading the Phillies in stolen bases (25). The Phillies signed him to a long-term contract that will increase his salary every year until – if the Phillies don’t guy him out – it will reach $12.5 milion, 10 times what he will be paid this season. With Roman Quinn on the horizon, however, Herrera’s future might not be in center field.

Placeholders: Howie Kendrick, 33, signed a one-year contract for $10 million. Michael Saunders, 30, has two years on his contract. Both will have to be terrific to get a commitment from the Phillies for a longer time.

The jury is still out: At 26 years old, Aaron Altherr is beginning to get a little old to be considered a prospect. He’s 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, but Altherr hasn’t been able to win a starting role yet in the big leagues. The jury is also out on Daniel Nava, who made the 25-man roster with a productive spring training.

Waiting in the wings: Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens.


As I’ve stressed throughout this preview, this season is about progress and identifying pieces for the future, not about winning right now. Having said that, it would be a positive sign if the Phillies won more games than they did last season when they finished 71-91. The improvement depends heavily on the starting pitching, and I’m concerned about Nola and Buchholz and not overly confident about Velasquez making the adjustment from a thrower to a pitcher.  Prediction: 76-86

Side angle of Cody Parkey's missed field goal