Goals in Flyers’ last 2 preseason games for defenseman Travis Sanheim

After a horrendous May, Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera has been smoking hot during the first week of June. Eric Fisher also examines Maikel Franco’s struggles, the first career wins for Nick Pivetta and Ben Lively and Vince Velasquez’s injury news.

Carson Wentz and the first-team offense produced two touchdowns before leaving after the first quarter, earlier than expected, during Thursday’s 38-31 victory over the Dolphins in a preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Eagles’ depth problems, the Olympics and the Soul’s challenge at ArenaBowl XXIX.

Archive for the ‘76ers’ Category

Ominous sign

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 21 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2Uh-oh.

That’s the immediate reaction to the news that Joel Embiid still hasn’t been cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball.

This is the year the 76ers were supposed to turn the corner. This is the year in which wins and losses were supposed to matter. This is the year they were supposed to make a run at the playoffs – if they’re healthy.

If they’re healthy.

The likelihood of that three-word caveat coming into play seems much greater after hearing the news about Embiid.

“If they’re healthy” really means “if he’s healthy.” And “he” refers to Embiid.

Aside from Ben Simmons, the Sixers don’t have any lingering injury concerns except Embiid. And the gregarious center has been an injury concern since before the Sixers drafted him.

Embiid probably would have been the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft if not for injuries. He fell to No. 3, where the Sixers scooped him up.

Embiid sat out his first two seasons with the Sixers. He made his NBA debut last season, his third season, but there were minutes restrictions and Embiid didn’t play in back-to-back games. Despite the attempts to protect Embiid, he sustained a mysterious injury that was finally revealed to be a meniscus tear.

He played in 31 games last season. 31. That’s less than half a season. Yet the Sixers are hitching their wagons to a player who has appeared in 31 games in his first three seasons.

Embiid had surgery in March to repair the meniscus in his left knee. According to the Sixers, the surgery was “minor.” According to the Sixers, the surgery was “successful.” According to Embiid, the surgery revealed that the injury wasn’t as bad as the initial diagnosis.

Minor, successful and not as bad should not, however, add up to not being medically cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball six months later. Either the Sixers once again had difficulty with the truth when characterizing Embiid’s injury or he is such a slow healer that if he were a televangelist, his show would need to be a mini-series.

Regardless of how general manager Bryan Colangelo tried to spin it this week, the news that Embiid hasn’t been medically cleared for 5-on-5 basketball less than a week before the Sixers open training camp (Tuesday) and less than a month before their season opener (Oct. 18) is an ominous sign.

The Sixers could be better this season without Embiid, but they probably won’t challenge for a playoff berth. Even if the Sixers challenge for a playoff berth, Embiid’s health raises questions about the team’s future.

Embiid is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The deadline for extending Embiid’s contract is Oct. 16. The latest injury news raises questions regarding how much money the Sixers are willing to commit to a player whose excellence and exuberance are on display on social media far more often than they are on the court. If the Sixers decide not to commit a lot of money to Embiid, he will probably be able to find a team willing to take a risk and sign him to a contract for close to the maximum amount allowed.

If he’s healthy – and that’s a big “if” – Embiid would likely make the Sixers regret not re-signing him. On the other hand, if they re-sign him to a maximum deal, the Sixers are taking the risk that Embiid will never be healthy enough to come close to playing a complete season.

Embiid has picked up the nickname, “The Process,” as in “Trust the Process.”

Well, with Embiid not medically cleared to play 5-on-5 basketball six months after his surgery, The Process looks pretty darn fragile these days.

And, in turn, so does the Sixers’ future.

Clinging to hope

Posted by Eric Fisher On August - 19 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2It’s what we cling to as sports fans. Especially as Philadelphia sports fans.

Let’s face it. We don’t have much more to hang our hats on other than hope.

The Eagles, Flyers, Sixers and Phillies haven’t done much for us lately. It has been five years since any of them advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. But they’re selling us on hope.

The Eagles actually have fans talking about potential playoff success this season and contending for a Super Bowl within the next few years.

The Sixers experienced a tremendous surge in season ticket sales after they drafted Markelle Fultz, selling fans on the idea that “The Process” is about to pay major dividends.

The Flyers are taking a patient approach, but they are asking fans to have faith that the young defensemen they have been grooming will lift the franchise back into the playoffs and, within a few seasons, Stanley Cup contention.

The Phillies have been selling fans on their young prospects. But that hope has run smack into the tree of reality this season.

The Phillies, who haven’t had a winning record since 2011, ended a seven-year streak of declining fortunes in 2016, improving from 63 victories to 71. The conventional wisdom was that they would continue to takes steps toward respectability, and a .500 record, this season. When Las Vegas set the over-under number for wins this season in the low-70s, fans and radio personalities scoffed at the pessimistic forecast, with some proclaiming that the “over” bet was easy money.

But, with one-quarter of the season remaining, matching last season’s 71 wins is nearly impossible. The Phillies are the worst team in baseball. They have lost six straight games, including five against the Padres and Giants, who are 33 and 38 games, respectively, out of first place in the National League West. At 43-77, the Phillies need to win 20 of their remaining 42 games to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1961.

The Phillies have crushed their fans’ hopes and dreams. Worse than the record is the performance of the players who were so heavily hyped in the minor leagues.

Hoby Milner is the only pitcher called up during the past two seasons who has been better than mediocre this year. Ben Lively, just called back up again to start Sunday, is 1-4 with a 3.80 ERA. Zach Eflin is 1-5 with a 6.16 ERA. Nick Pivetta is 4-8 with a 6.25 ERA. Jerad Eickhoff, who pitched well last season, is 3-7 with a 4.33 ERA. Jake Thompson is 5-13 with a 5.34 ERA – at Class AAA Lehigh Valley.

Let’s go to the bullpen. Edubray Ramos is 1-7 with a 4.78 ERA. Jesen Therrien has a 6.48 ERA in eight appearances. Ricardo Pinto has a 7.20 ERA. All of these pitchers had success in the minor leagues before struggling – and I’m being kind – in the majors.

As for position players, the Phillies don’t have a single one who has established himself as a foundation for the future. Maikel Franco is batting .221. Outfielders Aaron Altherr, who is no longer a youngster, and Nick Williams have looked promising, but they’re not exactly locks to be long-term starters, let alone cornerstones of the future. It’s far too early to make a judgment on Jorge Alfaro or Rhys Hoskins. Meanwhile, former hot prospect J.P. Crawford, Roman Quinn and Dylan Cozens battle through struggles in the minor leagues.

The struggles of the Phillies’ prospects may be a cautionary tale for fans of the Flyers and Sixers.

The Sixers have had one winning record in the past 12 seasons. They’ve won one playoff series since 2003. Their 28-54 record last season marked their highest victory total in four years. The previous three seasons were among the five worst in franchise history. But that’s all supposed to turn around this season.

The Sixers are largely pinning their hopes upon Joel Embiid, a transcendent talent who has only been healthy enough to play 31 games during his first three NBA seasons, and Ben Simmons and Fultz, who haven’t played any NBA games.

Should the Sixers win more than 28 games this season? Definitely. But will they be a fourth or fifth seed in the weak Eastern Conference? That’s their ceiling. We shouldn’t be surprised if the Sixers struggle to reach .500.

The Flyers’ hopes seem more grounded in reality. It’s exciting to see their young defensemen reach the NHL. Shayne Gostisbehere is entering his third season and Ivan Provorov his second. There could be two rookie defensemen added to the mix this season, with Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers among the top contenders.

But there could be growing pains as well. In fact, with so many young defensemen, we should expect growing pains. A return to the playoffs would be a good step in the right direction. Expecting any more than that would be setting ourselves up for disappointment.

And that brings us back to the Eagles. The Birds have missed the playoffs the past three seasons. They’ve only made the playoffs once in the past six years. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2008 season. And yet many fans are predicting, and almost expecting, double-digit wins and a playoff berth.

The Eagles have hitched their wagon to Carson Wentz, the second-year quarterback the Eagles acquired by trading up twice to reach the No. 2 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Wentz appears to have a very bright future. But virtually every other area on offense – the receivers, running backs and offensive line – has question marks. Ronald Darby significantly improves the cornerbacks, but, although the defense line appears to be the Eagles’ greatest strength, there are legitimate questions about the cornerbacks and the depth at linebacker.

The Eagles are too talented to fall to the levels to which the Phillies have fallen, but I’m fearful that Eagles fans are setting themselves up for similar disappointment. It’s refreshing to see the excitement surrounding the Eagles, but expectations may be too high.

Eagles fans – and Flyers and Sixers fans – are taking a leap of faith and clinging to hope.

After all, that’s all we have.

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R.I.P. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan