Points for Pelicans center Anthony Davis on Sunday, setting All-Star Game record

We provide five areas that could determine whether the Sixers have a bad season or an awful season.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the chances that Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will come to the Eagles, the Broncos’ shakeup and Kimmo Timonen’s much-deserved award,

Chairman Ed Snider says the Flyers’ culture “is to win.” But is that culture, which includes a heavy dose of loyalty, also responsible for the Flyers’ failure to win a Stanley Cup since 1975?

Archive for the ‘Phillies’ Category

Few positions up for grabs

Posted by Eric Fisher On February - 14 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

For a team that won 71 games last year, the Phillies’ roster seems remarkably settled as spring training begins.

The starting infield looks the same as it did when last season ended. The starting infield consists of Tommy Joseph at first base, Cesar Hernandez at second base, Freddy Galvis at shortstop, and Maikel Franco at third base. Andres Blanco is the backup at every infield position.

Cameron Rupp returns as the starting catcher, and Odubel Herrera starts in center field. The only new faces in the starting lineup are outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders, with Kendrick slated to start in left field and Saunders in right.

Barring an injury, the starting lineup listed above is nearly set in stone. There are, however, questions about the pitching staff and the bench.

With pitchers and catchers reporting Monday, and the rest of the players scheduled to report to Clearwater by Thursday, the following are 10 questions to consider during spring training.

Who will be in the starting rotation?

This seems almost as easy as projecting the starting lineup. If Aaron Nola is healthy, the rotation should consist of Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Nola. But that’s a big “if.” After being shut down last summer due to right elbow problems, Nola has a lot to prove this spring.

If Nola’s elbow is not sufficiently healed, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher and Adam Morgan will be waiting in the wings. Of course, Eflin had offseason surgery on both knees and Thompson has had wrist soreness, so Nola isn’t the only pitcher with health concerns.

Will the starting rotation be the same during the second half of the season as the first half?

The Phillies hope not.They don’t have anything against Clay Buchholz or Jeremy Hellickson, but the Phillies would be pleased if these veterans pitched well enough to be attractive to contenders at the trade deadline.

Who will be the closer?

This is one of the storylines to watch closely during spring training. Jeanmar Gomez is the incumbent. He saved 37 games last season, but he faded down the stretch. If Gomez falters, Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit will be waiting to pounce on the opportunity to be the closer. Neris spent most of the season as the eighth-inning setup man, but he has a better arsenal – a fastball and splitter – than Gomez to be a closer. Phillies general manager added veterans Benoit and Pat Neshek to the mix during the offeseason. Benoit split his season between the Mariners and Blue Jays last season. He was awful with Seattle; he was terrific with Toronto. Edubray Ramos, Joely Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and Luis Garcia are candidates to round out the bullpen. Adam Morgan could also earn a bullpen spot as a long reliever.

Are there any young players who could crack the lineup or the rotation?

Not without an injury, and not at the start of the season. It’s possible that J.P. Crawford could supplant Freddy Galvis at shortstop midway through the season, particularly if Galvis doesn’t improve his horrendous on-base percentage (.274). It’s also plausible that a young outfielder earns a starting role if the Phillies can get good prospects for Howie Kendrick or Michael Saunders at the trade deadline.

Which young outfielders could be on the roster at the start of the season?

Aaron Altherr is likely to start the season as the fourth outfielder. Veteran Chris Coghlan could be a valuable left-handed hitter coming off the bench and making spot starts. It makes more sense to have Coghlan in that role than a young player such as Roman Quinn or Andrew Pullin. The Phillies also have Tyler Goeddel, a Rule 5 pickup who stuck around all of last season.

Will Matt Stairs make a difference?

Stairs moves from the broadcast booth to the dugout, where he serves as the Phillies’ hitting coach. It’s difficult to measure situational hitting during spring training, where pitchers throw just a few innings and the score doesn’t really matter, but seeing Phillies hitters taking more pitches and working deeper counts would be a positive sign.

Speaking of working deep counts, what should we look for from Vince Velasquez?

Look for the opposite of what we’re looking for from Phillies hitters. If Velasquez can limit the number of pitches he throws, he might last longer than the fifth inning more often. Because opposing hitters might have a different approach than the regular season, spring training isn’t the perfect barometer, but it would be encouraging to see Velasquez keep his pitch count down.

Who will be the backup catcher?

Andrew Knapp could be the backup, especially with Jorge Alfaro requiring playing time at Class AAA Lehigh Valley, but veterans Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday are in training camp.

With the starting positions seemingly filled, who else could make the roster as a backup?

Brock Stassi is a left-handed bat and has a reputation for being terrific defensively at first base. Stassi also can play outfield. His versatility is a positive in terms of making the roster.

Will people overreact to events during spring traing?

Of course. That’s what people do during spring training. Remember that when you read about a prospect batting nearly .400 or a pitcher putting together a streak of shutout innings.

Optimistic about 2017

Posted by Eric Fisher On January - 1 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2Despite being a year largely filled with stumbling and bumbling by our local professional teams, 2016 provided reasons for optimism for 2017.

The highlight of 2016 was unquestionably Villanova’s national championship. We’ll be watching highlights of the Ryan Arcidiacono-to-Kris Jenkins game-winning play on NCAA tournament highlights for decades. For our four major pro teams, however, only the Flyers won more games than they lost.

Still, 2016 provided the promise that could turn 2017 into a wonderful year. Each team, with the possible exception of the Phillies, saw the debut of a player who could be a franchise cornerstone.

The Eagles traded up twice to draft North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. Wentz has cooled off since an incredible start, but he has all the tools to be a franchise quarterback.

2016 also featured the long-awaited debut of Sixers center Joel Embiid. When in the lineup, Embiid has provided Sixers fans with the first legitimate reason for excitement in several seasons. Embiid unquestionably has star quality written all over him.

Although not as highly celebrated as Wentz and Embiid, rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov has rapidly elevated his game to the point that he is, arguably, already be the Flyers’ best defenseman. Provorov doesn’t turn 20 until Jan. 13.

The Phillies seemed to opt for quantity rather than quality, but I mean that in a complimentary way. They may not have established a franchise cornerstone for the future, but the Phillies seem to have a number of players who could play important roles.

This was not a successful season for the Eagles. They finished 7-9 after a promising 3-0 start. Nobody will admit to it, but there was Super Bowl talk in the Delaware Valley after the Eagles reached the bye week at 3-0. The wins over the Browns and Bears were expected, and, in hindsight, we can see that these were two of the worst teams in the NFL. But the scintillating dismantlement of the Steelers during Week 3 sparked unbridled enthusiasm about the Eagles’ potential. Attempts to temper the enthusiasm, such as the upgrading of my Eagles prediction from 5-11 to 8-8, were derided as being ridiculously pessimistic.

The reality check came after the bye week. The Eagles lost nine of their next 11 games.

The silver lining, though, is Wentz. He endured some growing pains, but he gained valuable experience while starting 16 games. Although the quarterback is just one player, it seems easier to find the pieces to build around a quarterback than to find a franchise quarterback after putting the other pieces in place.

There are still many questions surrounding the Eagles. Quarterback isn’t one of them.

Speaking of unbridled enthusiasm, it is a pleasure to watch Embiid play with tremendous energy and joy. He leads the Sixers in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounding (7.3) and blocked shots (2.4).

Yes, the Sixers enter 2017 tied with the Nets for the worst record (8-24) in the NBA. Yes, there is reason to question whether Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel can work effectively with Embiid. There isn’t an NBA-quality starting point guard or shooting guard on the roster – at least not until top overall draft pick Ben Simmons is healthy. But we have Embiid.

If he remains healthy – and, given his injury history, that’s still a big “if” – Embiid seems like a sure-fire superstar. Embiid seems worth the two-year wait to see him play, and that’s saying something. For Sixers fans who have survived the first few years of “The Process,” Embiid’s presence provides hope that there may be a light at the end of this long dark tunnel.

Provorov’s contributions are more subtle than those of Wentz or Embiid. He’s not the center of attention. But he plays with poise far beyond his years. After an initial adjustment period, Provorov seems to have the instincts to make the right decisions. He cuts off the rush in the neutral zone at the right time. He pushes forward in the offensive zone at the right time. Basically, he’s a 19-year-old making veteran decisions.

Head coach Dave Hakstol trusts Provorov enough that the rookie frequently logs the most ice time during games. Hakstol also uses Provorov on power play and shorthanded situations. Shayne Gostisbehere made a flashier debut last season, but Provorov appears to be the better all-around defenseman. Seeing Gostisbehere’s impact and Provorov’s rapid development during 2016 gives Flyers fans two reasons to be optimistic about 2017 and, in Provorov’s case, the next decade.

The Phillies were surprisingly good during the first portion of 2016 before coming back down to earth the rest of the season. They haven’t necessarily found a star, but their 2017 should also be better than 2016.

The Soul won an Arena Football League title in 2016. The Union ended their playoff drought. Both have reason for hope in 2017.

Temple’s football team achieved a second straight 10-win season. It will be interesting to see if the Owls can continue that success in 2017. For those who extend the local region a bit further, the arrow is definitely pointing upward for Penn State, which surprised everyone by winning the Big Ten Championship and could start off 2017 on the right foot with a victory over USC in the Rose Bowl.

Something else to look forward to in 2017 is the NFL Draft coming to Philadelphia.

We haven’t had many good years in Philadelphia sports this decade. But 2016 provided some positive signs that our fortunes may change in 2017.

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Classic George Steele (RIP) match, interview