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Sacks in 3 seasons for 2014 1st-round pick Marcus Smith, cut by Eagles on Wednesday

Mo’Ne Davis and Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons are the media darlings as the Little League World Series begins. But Eric Fisher says the Dragons’ success or failure should not be played out on national television.

Internal NCAA emails, turned over as part of discovery in a lawsuit, reveal that NCAA officials had doubts whether the organization had the right to impose draconian sanctions on Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

Eric Fisher visits the Phillies’ pre-trade deadline yard sale and finds Ruben Amaro Jr. desperately trying to peddle overvalued items with high maintenance costs.

Archive for May, 2017

NBA Finals preview: Battle of the Titans

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 31 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Finally, it’s time for the main event. Not only did we have to wade through three rounds of preliminaries, but we had to wait a week for the completion of the Eastern Conference Finals for the NBA Finals to begin.

But now the finals have arrived. Warriors vs. Cavaliers. Just as everyone expected.

This is the third straight year these two teams have met in the finals. The Warriors won the first meeting. The Cavaliers won last year.

The Warriors and Cavaliers barely broke a sweat while returning to the finals. The Warriors swept three straight series. The Cavaliers swept their first two series before needing five games to dispatch the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Even the basketball gods seemed on the side of destiny, with the Spurs losing Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals and the Celtics losing Isaiah Thomas midway through the Eastern Conference Finals.

Not only is this the third straight finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers, but it’s the seventh straight finals appearance for LeBron James. Will James and the Cavaliers, who ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought last year, repeat as champions or will Stephen Curry and the Warriors regain their crown?

A new element this year is Kevin Durant, who certainly enhances the Warriors’ chances. It will be interesting to see if James can contain Durant without it affecting his impact at the offensive end.

Let’s evaluate what could be an epic battle between the NBA’s two dominant teams.

NBA FINALS

CAVALIERS vs. WARRIORS

How Cavaliers got here: They swept the Pacers and the Raptors, and then required five games to eliminate the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

How the Warriors got here: They swept the Trail Blazers, the Jazz and the Spurs.

Cavaliers: After sleepwalking through portion of the regular season, including the final 10 games, the defending champions seem to have found their groove. They’ve improved during each round of the playoffs. LeBron James (26.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 8.7 assists during the regular season) is averaging 32.5 points during the playoffs while continuing to rebound (8.0) and distribute the basketball (7.0 assists). Point guard Kyrie Irving (25.2 points, 5.8 assists) is averaging 24.5 points and 5.6 assists during the playoffs. Kevin Love, who had arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-February, improved during the Eastern Conference Finals, bringing his postseason averages (17.2 points, 10.8 rebounds) closer to his regular-season averages (19 points, 11.1 rebounds). Former Sixer Kyle Korver (6.4 points) has, with the exception of the Raptors series, not been a major factor, and his scoring is still below his regular-season average (10.1). Center Tristan Thompson (9.2 points, 9.3 rebounds), forward Channing Frye (7.8 points) and guards J.R. Smith (6.6 points) and Deron Williams (5.6) have contributed, but not enough to take the pressure off James and Irving.

Warriors: The Warriors are led by the trio of Stephen Curry (25.3 points, 6.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds), Kevin Durant (25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists) and Klay Thompson (22.3 points). Curry has increased his scoring (28.6) during the playoffs and Durant (25.2) is almost right on his average, but Thompson (14.4) has been below his regular-season levels. Thompson is only making 38.3 percent of his shots. On the other hand, forward/center Draymond Green (10.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7 assists) has increased his scoring (13.9), rebounding (8.7) and assists (7.2). Former Sixer Andre Iguodala (6.5 points) embraces his defensive role, which will primarily be to contain James. The Warriors have battled through injuries while sweeping their first three opponents, but those sweeps have provided the Warriors with plenty of time to rest up and get healthy. One player they would love to see get more involved is forward Matt Barnes (7.1 points), who didn’t play at all in the first round and saw limited action during the next two rounds. Guard Shaun Livingston (5.1 points) also has seen relatively limited action. Guard Ian Clark (7.2 points in playoffs, ), forward David West (4.6 points) and centers JaVale McGee (7.0 points) and Zaza Pachulia (6.1 points) have filled in the gaps, just as they have all season.

Analysis: The well-rested Warriors (67-15) have won 27 of their past 28 games, including 12 straight in the postseason. The scary thing is they haven’t been playing their best basketball during the postseason. But they will need to be at their best against the Cavaliers. This series may be determined by the third guy in each team’s tremendous trio. James, Irving, Curry and Durant have been terrific. The wild cards are Love and Klay Thompson. Whichever one plays better may tip the scales in his team’s favor. The Warriors are once again being led by assistant coach Mike Brown because of head coach Steve Kerr’s back problems, but whether Brown’s revenge motive against his former team, with most people believing James was influential in his firing, is uncertain. More applicable is that the Warriors seems to have a better cast of supporting players. They also don’t have an answer for Draymond Green. Another factor is that James may have to use up a lot of energy guarding Durant. Adding Durant could be what puts the Warriors over the top in this rivalry. Warriors in 6

Phillies Notebook: Kids might not be all right

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 29 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

There is a tendency to look toward Lehigh Valley as a panacea.

The Phillies have lost nine straight series. The Ironpigs have won eight straight series.

The Phillies have lost 22 of their last 28 games. The Ironpigs have won 20 of their last 22 games.

The Phillies’ record is 17-31, the worst in Major League Baseball.

So why not call up “the kids?”

I don’t have any problem with calling up some of the young players, as long as we temper our expectations. The Phillies won’t necessarily get better if they call up a few of the Ironpigs. They may even get worse.

Nick Pivetta is 5-0 with a 1.41 ERA with Lehigh Valley this season. In four starts with the Phillies while Aaron Nola was on the disabled list, Pivetta was 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA. Jake Thompson, another promising young arm, compiled an ERA of 9.0 during three games with the Phillies. Zach Eflin was just sent back to the Ironpigs after going winless (0-3) in eight starts, with his ERA climbing to 6.13 after three straight rough outings.

So when the calls rise up for Ben Lively (6-1, 2.40 ERA) to be promoted, which he may be soon, don’t expect him to duplicate the success he’s had in Class AAA in the majors. I wouldn’t mind seeing ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte (0.36 ERA in 17 appearances) instead of trotting lefty Joely Rodriguez (1-2, 6.65 ERA) out there again, but Venditte is a 31-year-old veteran, not a young player who would have a major adjustment to make in the big leagues.

Which position players would you call up. An obvious choice would be Rhys Hoskins. He has 13 home runs and 38 RBI while batting .323. But Hoskins is a first baseman. Tommy Joseph, after an awful April, has been one of the Phillies’ best hitters during May. Why would you take him out of the lineup?

Odubel Herrera (.217 average) has been horrendous, but the answer might not be to promote Roman Quinn or Cameron Perkins. A better move at this point would be to move Aaron Altherr to center field and use Howie Kendrick, who is returning from his oblique injury, in left field. It makes no sense to call up Quinn (.274) or Perkins (.279) if they’re not going to play every day.

Nick Williams (.282, 10 home runs, 31 RBI), who hit two home runs Sunday during a 14-2 thrashing of Louisville, seems like the outfielder most likely to be recalled. On the negative side, Williams continues to have discipline issues at the plate, walking just six times while striking out 53 times. If the Phillies were to call up Williams, they would have to commit to Williams and Altherr as two of their three everyday outfielders.

Forget about Dylan Cozens filling the third outfield spot. The big right fielder has 13 home runs and 37 RBI, but is batting just .228 and has struck out 66 times in 46 games. Those numbers would likely get worse in the majors.

A popular choice to be promoted is catcher Jorge Alfaro. He is batting .283, but plate discipline is also an issue for him. Alfaro has walked just three times this season while striking out 48 times. The question with Alfaro is how well he can handle the pitching staff. Considering the current problems with the Phillies’ pitching staff, perhaps this isn’t the best time to throw Alfaro into the fire.

Before the season, J.P. Crawford was a popular choice to be called up by midseason. But Crawford is batting just .201, with only six extra-base hits in 45 games. He’s clearly not ready to hit big-league pitching. Freddy Galvis’ job is safe for now.

As for replacing Maikel Franco (.213 average), would you prefer journeyman Taylor Featherston? That’s who is starting for the Ironpigs.

Considering how bad the Phillies are right now, it’s easy to understand the  “call-up-the-kids” sentiment. But there aren’t that many callups – Lively, Venditte and possibly Alfaro or Williams – that make sense right now.

When the young players arrive, though, expectations should be kept in check. These young players aren’t saviors. In fact, as we’ve seen already this season, we don’t know if their success with Lehigh Valley will translate to success in the majors.

*****

REMEMBERING BUNNING: My only true memory of Jim Bunning was from my the dice-based baseball games (sort of like Strat-O-Matic) that I used to play as a kid. My first game had the teams from 1971, which meant that the Phillies weren’t very good. Neither was Bunning.

In the final year of his career, the 39-year-old Bunning was 5-12 with a 5.48 ERA. The Phillies didn’t win many games that season – in real life (67-95) or in my bedroom – unless Rick Wise was on the mound.

Although I had some sense that Bunning used to be a better pitcher, I had no idea that he had put together a Hall of Fame career. Bunning won more than 100 games in both the National League and American League, the first pitcher to do that since Cy Young. He won 118 games with the Tigers, 89 with the Phillies, 14 with the Pirates and three with the Dodgers. He only won 20 games once, with the Tigers in 1957, but won 19 games four times in a five-year span, including with the Phillies from 1964-66. When he retired, he ranked second to Walter Johnson in career strikeouts.

Bunning also hurled no-hitters in both leagues, with the second one being the famous perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964. That perfect game against the Mets on June 21, 1964, was the first one during the regular season in the National League since 1880.

Bunning was also known for his dedication and no-nonsense approach. Those same qualities helped him get re-elected to multiple terms in the House of Representatives and Senate as a representative for Kentucky.

Bunning made important contributions to the game of baseball and our country. PhillyPhanatics.com extends condolences to Bunning’s family, the Phillies organization and his friends and teammates.

*****

RAY OF HOPE: The schedule presents an opportunity for the Phillies to turn their fortunes around this week. The visit the Marlins (18-30), who are only one game ahead of them in the standings, Monday through Wednesday. The Marlins are the last team the Phillies defeated in a series, which was a rain-shortened series on April 26-27. The Phillies then host the struggling Giants (22-30) on Friday through Sunday before visiting the Braves (21-27) for four games at the start of a nine-game road trip.

The rest of June appears to be much more difficult, with six games apiece against the Cardinals (24-23) and Diamondbacks (31-21) and four against the Red Sox (27-22). If the Phillies are going to come closer to a respectable record, they need to make their move this week.

*****

MEETING OF THE MINDS: After another listless performance during Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Reds, manager Pete Mackanin called held a team meeting. Did it help? I’m not sure. But it couldn’t hurt.

*****

HERRERA’S STRUGGLES: In his last five games, center fielder Odubel Herrera is 1 for 21. That stretch includes an 0-for-5 performance with five strikeouts during the series finale against the Rockies. His average has plummeted to .217. He is batting .181 in May.

With Howie Kendrick expected to return from the disabled list, expect to see Herrera spend a few games on the bench, with Aaron Altherr starting in center field and Kendrick in left. Kendrick also can play third base, which gives manager Pete Mackanin another option at third if he decides to bench Maikel Franco, as he did this past week.

*****

EFLIN SENT DOWN: After having surgery on both knees during the offseason, there was a lot of optimism that Zach Eflin would be better this season. Instead, he was sent down Sunday after allowing four home runs during an 8-4 loss to the Reds. Eflin is 0-3 with a 6.13 ERA, and he’s been getting progressively worse instead of better. None of the Phillies’ young starters has pitched well this season.

*****

POOR STARTS: Phillies starting pitchers have just two wins during May, and one of them came from Vince Velasquez on May 1. The other win came from Jeremy Hellickson on May 19. To put it mildly, having two wins from your starters during May is indicative of a major problem with the rotation.

 

Pirates' Jose Osuna throws out 3 Phillies