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Receiving yards for Cowboys’ Amari Cooper during Sunday’s 29-23 win over Eagles

With apologies to Dr. Seuss, Eric Fisher roasts Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie with “Silent Sam I Am.”

Aaron Nola has been terrific during his past 10 starts, answering all of the questions he faced at the start of this season. Eric Fisher also says it’s time to do something different with Vince Velasquez, celebrates Rhys Hoskins’ and Jorge Alfaro’s first major-league homers, and argues that Odubel Herrera’s repeated mistakes shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who died Sunday of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, was a passionate sports fan. Eric Fisher found that out first-hand one night when seated next to Sen. Specter at dinner.

Archive for June, 2018

Phillies Notebook: Free agents not paying off

Posted by Eric Fisher On June - 30 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

With the Sixers and Flyers pursuing free agents, a look at the Phillies’ free-agent signings serves as a reminder that you don’t always get what you pay for.

The Phillies’ biggest offseason signing was Jake Arrieta. By waiting until the spring, the Phillies supposedly got a bargain by signing Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract. Nobody questioned the wisdom of signing Arrieta. He joined Aaron Nola in forming a terrific top of the rotation and the signing sent a signal that the Phillies planned to be playoff contenders this season.

It’s far too early to render a final verdict on the Arrieta signing, but the sentiment at the end of June is certainly different than it was at the end of May. Arrieta’s ERA during May was 0.90. His ERA during June was 6.66. An 0-4 record during June has dropped Arrieta to 5-6 this season, albeit with a respectable 3.54 ERA.

Arrieta has been the victim of some bad luck. Errors have led to an incredible 14 unearned runs being scored against him this season in 15 starts (as opposed to 33 earned runs). But that statistic also indicates that Arrieta hasn’t been able to pitch his way out of jams created by poor defense.

Despite his struggles, Arrieta has stabilized the Phillies’ rotation. But, if the Phillies struggle during July, and if Arrieta doesn’t regain his top form, don’t be surprised if Arrieta’s name surfaces in trade rumors, with the logic being that they can get out from under his expensive contract.

The Phillies’ other major free-agent signing was first baseman Carlos Santana. Unlike the Arrieta signing, there were people who questioned signing Santana to a three-year, $60 miollion contract when the Phillies already had Rhys Hoskins at first base. The signing forced Hoskins to move to left field.

The position switch hasn’t appeared to have a negative effect on Hoskins’ production, but Santana hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire. He entered Saturday’s game batting .224. His 14 home runs tie him with Hoskins for the team lead, his 48 RBI are only second to Hoskins on the team, and his 61 walks lead the team. Santana also has five errors. With his patient approach at the plate, Santana has been a good role model, but is that worth $20 million per year and displacing the team’s top power hitter?

The Phillies also signed veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. Signed to a two-year, $16.25 million contract, Neshek hasn’t pitched for the Phillies this season due to arm injuries. Unfortunately, Hunter, signed to a two-year, $18 million contract, has pitched for the Phillies this season. Somehow, Hunter has a 2-0 record, but his ERA is 5.09, with his latest near-disaster coming Friday, when he almost blew Aaron Nola’s excellent start by allowing a run and leaving a runner on third base with one out in the ninth inning before Seranthony Dominguez bailed him out by getting the final two outs.

It’s fair to say that, as of June 30, not one of the top four free agents signed by the Phillies has lived up to expectations, and at least three of the four are disappointments. That should serve as a warning to the Sixers and Flyers. Spending a lot of money may make the fans happy, but it’s not a guarantee of success.

*****

NERIS SENT DOWN AGAIN: The Phillies sent former closer Hector Neris to Class AAA Lehigh Valley on Saturday for the second time during June. He was recalled the first time due to Edubray Ramos going on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, but it’s doubtful that Neris will return to the Phillies before the All-Star break – and it could be a lot longer until he returns.

Friday’s ninth inning, during which Neris allowed three home runs, was painful to watch. He gave up a solo home run to Brian Goodwin. With two outs in the ninth, rookie Juan Soto ripped a three-run homer. And then Mark Reynolds followed by crushing a home run into the second level in left field, capping a five-run ninth inning and 17-7 victory.

Unfortunately for Neris, who has a 1-3 record and 6.90 ERA, most of the fans stuck around for the post-game fireworks. The crowd serenaded him with loud boos as he walked off the mound.

                               *****                               

HOSKINS ON ROLL: One of the few highlights from Friday’s 17-7 loss was Rhys Hoskins’ at-bat during the fifth inning. Hoskins repeatedly fouled off pitches before homering to left-center field on the 14th pitch of the at-bat. Considering the Phillies were getting blown out at the time, Hoskins’ concentration says a lot about the young slugger.

Hoskins, who just started eating solid food a few days ago after breaking his jaw at the end of May, entered Saturday’s game batting .324 in June with eight home runs and 22 RBI. He is tied for the team lead in homers (14) with Carlos Santana and leads the Phillies in RBI (50).

*****

MR. JUNE: As bad as Jake Arrieta has been during June, that’s how well Zach Eflin has pitched. Eflin compiled a 5-0 record and 1.76 ERA during June. For the season, he is 6-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

*****

UP AND DOWN: Odubel Herrera continues to be consistently inconsistent. After seeing his batting average plummet from a National-League leading.361 to .283, Herrera hit five home runs in seven games while raising his average to .299. It appeared that Herrera had turned his season around, and his average reached .308 after he went 4 for 5 against the Nationals on June 22. But Herrera entered Saturday’s game without a hit in his last 21 at-bats, dropping his average to .286.

*****

STAR POWER: Voting for the All-Star Game closed on Thursday. The starting position players will be announced on Tuesday, but, when the final rosters are announced, the only Phillie who should be positive his name will be called is Aaron Nola. With a 10-2 record and 2.48 ERA, there isn’t any way Nola should be left off the All-Star team. Other Phillies with a possibility of being named to the team are Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera and, as a long shot, Edubray Ramos.

*****

TOUGH MONTH: The Phillies entered Saturday’s game with a 12-14 record during June. That’s not bad considering they started the month with a 1-7 stretch and played extremely tough competition. June included two series with the Brewers and Nationals (including the current series) and one series apiece with the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, Rockies and Giants.

*****

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Phillies will face easier opponents during the first half of July than during June, but the schedule itself isn’t so easy. After finishing their four-game series with the Nationals, the Phillies will be off on Monday and Thursday, with two home games against the Orioles sandwiched in between. But then the Phillies will go on a 10-day road trip that includes 11 games in four cities.

One of the games, on July 12, is a makeup game at Baltimore, the result of a May 15th rainout. On July 9, the Phillies will play at doubleheader against the Mets, with the second game being a makeup of an April 2nd rainout. The busy road trip will take the Phillies to the All-Star break.

Don’t expect big splash

Posted by Eric Fisher On June - 30 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Unlike NBA free agency, the NHL free agency period, which also begins Sunday at 12:01 a.m., doesn’t feature many elite players. It can be argued that center John Tavares, if he chooses not to re-sign with the Islander, would be the only elite player on the market.

That leaves slim pickings for the Flyers. But that doesn’t mean they can’t find a player to improve the team. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has said the Flyers won’t sign anyone who isn’t an upgrade over what the Flyers already have, either on their roster or in young talent close to making the roster. But he has also said the Flyers would like a top-six forward, a third-line center and a top-four veteran defenseman.

The Flyers are approximately $21 million under the salary cap, which rises by $5 million for the upcoming season, but they need to leave room to re-sign young players such as Ivan Provorov, whom the Flyers would like to sign to an extension this offseason.

Forward

The top unrestricted forward is probably former Flyer James van Riemsdyk. The Flyers could certainly use the goal-scoring ability of the 29-year-old van Riemsdyk, who scored 36 goals last season. The question would be the price and length of the deal. Van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 217 pounds), drafted second overall by the Flyers in the 2007 NHL Draft, isn’t a particularly well-rounded player, but he can put the puck in the net.

If we stick with the ex-Flyers category, Scott Hartnell, Scottie Upshall, Joffrey Lupul, Kris Versteeg, Harry Zolnierczyk and Zac Rinaldo are all unrestricted free agents, but it’s difficult to see how any of them are upgrades over what the Flyers currently have, although Upshall could be a good bottom-six forward if available for the right price on a short-term deal.

Golden Knights forward James Neal, 30, scored 25 goals last season, but it will likely take a lot of money to sign him. The other big names available, including Rick Nash, Thomas Vanek and Chris Kunitz, are all at least 34 years old.

An interesting possibility is left wing Patrick Maroon, who was drafted by the Flyers in the sixth round in 2007, the same year they drafted van Riemsdyk in the first round. Maroon never played for the Flyers, and didn’t leave under the best of circumstances when traded to the Ducks in 2010. He found some success with the Oilers, scoring 27 goals during the 2016-17 season and then scoring 14 with the Oilers last season before being traded to the Devils, for whom he only scored two goals. Considering how Maroon left the Flyers, it’s unlikely they would sign him, but sometimes time heals old wounds.

If the Flyers would consider cheaper options on the wing, two names I like are Blake Comeau and Michael Grabner. Comeau, 32, scored 13 goals and had 21 assists last season with the Avalanche. Grabner, a player I touted when he was a free agent two years ago, scored 27 goals each of the past two seasons, although he only scored two in 21 games last season after being traded to the Devils. Grabner has speed, can kill penalties and could be obtained at a relatively low price.

Commeau and Grabner could make an impact, but they aren’t top-six forwards at this point in their career. Still, they might be upgrades over what the Flyers currently have on their roster.

Center

The Flyers would prefer a third-line center, but the cost may be prohibitive. Aside from Tavares, the best available centers under 35 are the Jets’ Paul Stastny and the Leafs’ Tyler Bozak. A younger option is Riley Nash, 29, who broke out with 15 goals and 26 assists last season with the Bruins. Although Stastny and Nash would be terrific fits, the scarcity of centers is likely to push the bidding beyond what the Flyers want to spend on a third-line center. It’s likely that Nash will be more affordable than Stastny.

Defenseman

The Flyers might be willing to spend a little more money on a veteran defenseman. The Hurricanes’ Ian Cole, 29, and the Islanders Calvin de Haan, 27, have been the names most frequently mentioned in connection with the Flyers’ free-agent plans. De Haan missed more than half of last season with a shoulder injury, which could keep his price down. The Devils’ John Moore, 27, also should be an affordable option. The Flyers could try to sign older defensemen such as Brooks Orpik, who just won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals, and Dan Hamhuis to one-year contracts.

An interesting possibility is Luca Sbisa, who, like van Riemsdyk, was a first-round draft pick of the Flyers. Sbisa, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 NHL draft, was traded to the Ducks in the deal that brought Chris Pronger to the Flyers. Sbisa is only 28 years old, and his cap hit might be relatively low after only playing 30 games with the Golden Knights due to injury. Another 28-year-old former Flyer who is available is Luke Schenn, who was acquired by the Flyers in exchange for van Riemsdyk. But it’s difficult to imagine the Flyers fielding a defense featuring Schenn and Radko Gudas.

If the Flyers are going to sign former Flyers, van Riemsdyk and Sbisa would be the best fits – assuming the money is right for the Flyers.

Butler game-winner vs. Nets