Saturday, March 31, 2007

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine wraps up its "35 Reasons to Believe" series today, which means only one thing -- the regular season is almost upon us. We've counted down the arrival of Opening Day by profiling one Phillies player per day, ranging from those who have already left the club to those who are planning on carrying it. Hope you enjoyed. If you missed any of the days, click on the "Phillies Season Preview" tag below for the archived stories. And don't forget to check back in for Michael Rushton's in-depth season preview, coming soon...

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 35 - Ryan Howard

Where is the point when an athlete becomes transcendent?

What pushes someone into the elite category, where they are judged on a scale that very few get to step foot on?

For most it's difficult to pin down. For Ryan Howard, that moment occurred on June 20th of last year.

First inning, two out, two on, Mike Mussina on the mound for the Yanks. Howard turns on a pitch, and launches it into the third level of the right-field stands at Citizen's Bank Park. Brett Myers presses against the dugout fence, follows the shot in bewilderment, and sums up everyone's experience with his eyes as he turns toward the camera-- I've never seen anything like that before in my life!

Howard finishes with two home runs and seven RBI to up his numbers to 25 homers and 66 RBI just 71 games in. It was time to start paying close attention.

"I think back to that Yankee game and the ball I hit into the third deck and I went [in the stands] and got to see it and didn't think it was humanly possible to do that. The first thing that came to my mind was, 'Did this really just happen?'"

Phillies fans and national pundits alike have the same reaction when looking at Howard's MVP season as a whole. Most knew he had the chance to be special, but to have a season that statistically trumps all but one of Barry Bonds' campaigns? Shocking, even more so when you realize Charlie Manuel didn't put him into the four-hole permanently until July.

And honestly, it still hasn't sunk in. Remaining in disbelief, many are looking at Howard's sub-par spring and trying to equate it into an inevitable fall. He must be a flash -- nothing that bright can burn for long.

Put pessimism or measured caution aside, though, and history suggests that Howard has not yet reached his peak years. He has only one full season under his belt, has played in just 251 major league games and is but 27-years-old.

Does that mean that he is going to match or exceed the 58 home runs and 149 RBI that he put up in 2006 each year? Likely not, since he will be dealt with very gingerly by opposing managers and pitchers from now on.

That became pretty clear on August 11 against Cincinnati, when Howard was walked three times in extra innings. The final free pass came in the bottom of the 14th to load the bases with no outs, putting the winning run just 90 feet away.

Reds manager Jerry Narron explained, "When he comes to the plate, he's already in scoring position."

A dip in numbers doesn't mean that Howard's impact will be any less. To reference Bonds again, the slugger's home run numbers dropped after his record-setting 2001 season from 73 to 46, and his RBIs went from 137 to 110 the following year. His batting average, though, jumped from .328 to .370 and his on-base percentage skyrocketed to .582 as teams learned to further fear and respect him.

He claimed his second of four straight MVPs that year, and more importantly, guided his team to the World Series in '02, where the Giants fell a game short of claiming a championship.

When teams choose not to challenge you regularly, there are a few natural benefits as long as you stay disciplined: You will draw more walks, your average will increase, and your eye will become more keen. The strike zone becomes less important than a personal zone that you create -- if a ball comes into your wheelhouse, you crack it; if not, you let it be.

And, of course, your teammates will see better pitches, thereby shifting the entire dynamic and potency of your lineup.

In other words, Howard will affect the game even when he's caged in the dugout, giving the title of reigning MVP further meaning.

Like Howard's swing, his emergence has come so swift and violently, that it's hard to comprehend. The man himself has a difficult time grasping that he has reached such a high level so quickly.

But as sure as there is an "H" inscribed on the third-deck seat where that improbable June 20 home run landed, Howard's abilities are very real.

And for those who are still concerned, fear not -- he'll provide some reassurance in just a few short days.

Tim can be reached at

Endangered Species

By John McMullen
The Phanatic Magazine

If you were a fly on the wall at The Phanatic Magazine offices, you would know the staff has some pretty entertaining arguments.

Most of them involve the more mundane topics like calling out the slobs who can't clean the microwave or contacting Jack Bauer to find those missing pens. But, some actually involve sports -- the most spirited of which this year has been Greg Oden versus Kevin Durant.

Being the wily veteran of the group I, of course, have been on the right side since Day 1 -- Oden. But, more and more of my colleagues have been seduced by Durant’s unbelievable skill.

It seemed like every time the Texas freshman buried another three, it was like the Dark Lord of the Sith had clouded the vision of the staff.

I thought I could yell gin then I pointed out an ESPN poll where 20 of the 21 NBA general managers with the courage to answer the question of Oden versus Durant picked the obvious choice. And 20-of-21 isn’t exactly a tight knit affair.

Then, it was Ohio State that punched its ticket to the Final Four while Durant was stuck on the sidelines accepting his AP Player of the Year award and dreaming about that upcoming $70 million dollar Nike contract.

And I guess the ultimate validation will come in June when David Stern steps to the podium and tells us Memphis or Boston has selected Oden with the top pick.

Of course in the end -- at least to the people in the know -- it was never really a choice. Oden versus Durant was the ultimate no-brainer.

That’s not a shot at Durant. You see there are always skilled wing people. Athletic guys on the outside are as overpopulated as it gets in the NBA landscape. That’s not to say players as good as Durant come around all that often -- it just means guys you can win with do.

Oden on the other hand is an endangered species. A true big man that actually plays like a big man in a game bastardized by the three-point shot.

And spending a year with the Buckeyes has only sold me even more on Oden. While others saw it as a chance to poke holes in his game, I saw Oden developing the attitude it takes to succeed at the next level.

He is a huge and intimidating presence standing next to his college foes and that’s where you develop the “big man” mentality, at least according to the generation’s most dominant center -- Shaquille O’Neal.

"When you got three little dudes hanging on you and you're still dunking on their mugs, it makes you feel like a superior being," O'Neal told Mike Wise of the Washington Post.

Now that Oden feels that -- he’s well on his way to becoming a superior being in the NBA.

-You can reach John at

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mapping out the Phils

By Michael Rushton

The start to any baseball season, or any sport for that matter, is always filled with what-ifs. Injury, potential and unknowns always factor into this, making predictions very difficult for the average Joe. However, it is very easy for ordinary fans to determine what a team needs to do to be successful, and what can go horribly wrong.

5 things that can go right for the Phillies:

1. Ryan Howard gets his bat on the ball, and so does Pat Burrell.

This is probably the biggest no-brainer. It is unfair to expect Howard to belt 58 home runs again this season, but a 45-plus season would be far from a disappointment. However, a solid, not big, but solid season from Burrell will help Howard stay relaxed and not feel as though he has to carry the offense himself. Burrell will still strikeout a lot this season, but a .275 average is a very good number for him to shoot for.

2. Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton stay healthy.

The second no-brainer. If Garcia's right bicep tendinitis turns out not to be a serious injury, and Eaton avoids all sharp objects and pitches in at least 25 games, the Phillies rotation should live up to the hype. There is no reason Brett Myers and Garcia don't combine for at least 32 wins, and a healthy Eaton provides helpful depth. Remember that before the Phillies acquired Garcia, Eaton was projected to pitch out of the three spot.

3. Jon Lieber accepts his role in the bullpen, and thrives.

This is a big one and probably the most unlikely. If Lieber excels in the bullpen, it means two things. First, the Phillies starters stayed healthy and two, the Phillies have a reliable arm out of the pen. Honestly, I don't expect Lieber to last in the bullpen, but stranger things have happened and it's a short-term situation barring trade or free agency.

4. Michael Bourn emerges as a well-rounded talent in center field.

This would be a nice-case scenario for the Phils. First off, it would provide them reliable bench depth as opposed to just a late-inning speed option. However, more importantly he would provide a replacement should the Phillies eventually trade Aaron Rowand. For the record, I'm not a fan of moving Rowand at all giving the intangibles he brings, which are necessary to win titles, but the Phillies should be small buyers at the deadline this season and have little to offer out of their farm system. This makes good seasons out of their potential free agents -- Lieber and Rowand -- key for any future deals.

5. Ryan Madson becomes a reliable set-up man and part-time closer.

The Phillies bullpen is weak, but a solid Madson and a healthy Tom Gordon, as unlikely as that sounds, will help shorten games given the rotation's potential. Madson has been very good this spring and is expected to take over in the eighth inning when appropriate. And if his success continues, its not a stretch for him to save a few games now and then to keep Gordon fresh.

5 things that can go wrong for the Phillies:

1. Howard struggles and Burrell is Burrell.

Again, it is unfair to expect another record-breaking season out of Howard, and he is no longer a surprise to the league. Pitchers are going to throw to him differently this year, if at all, and if Burrell can't help with the offense, it is going to be a frustrating season for Burrell, Howard and Phils fans.

2. Garcia's injury lingers, Lieber is unable to make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, and Eaton also gets hurt.

Suddenly, the Phillies deep rotation is gutted and they really, really miss Gavin Floyd, as sad as that sounds. Unfortunately, this scenario is not far-fetched. If injuries dog the Phillies starting five (six if you count Lieber) they have absolutely no depth to plug holes with and may end up wasting what little bargaining chips they have on short-term pitching help through trade.

3. The bullpen is never addressed.

It is no secret that the Phillies bullpen is going to be their weak link. They know this and are desperately trying to address it, possibly by trade with the Blue Jays. However, if Gordon goes down via injury, again, there is little talent to lean on while he recovers. There is also no guarantee the arms they have in there can perform all year, if at all. Championship teams win close games. The Phillies will not.

4. Wes Helms provides little power from the corner.

The Phillies already lose power at one key power position (right field with Shane Victorino) and if Helms can't provide some long balls off his bat, Philadelphia's bottom end of the order will lose more games than it wins. He doesn't need to blast 30 homers, but a 25-home run season is not unreasonable to ask.

5. Philadelphia gets off to a bad start.

A poor April could sink the ship before it leaves the dock. Expectations are as high as they have ever been and the sensitive Phillies may falter if they lose their fan base early. I can easily see a frustrated Burrell shunning the city for good, a bewildered Howard losing confidence and Garcia saying he wants out now if the fans turn on the club. However, a good April will provide a huge energy surge from the faithful fans that the Phillies can ride into the postseason.

Sixers hold off Celtics

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

Kyle Korver dropped in 26 points off the bench as the Philadelphia 76ers held on to beat the Boston Celtics, 88-82, in a battle of the two worst teams in the Atlantic Division at the Wachovia Center.

Andre Iguodala finished with 23 points and 12 assists while Samuel Dalembert chipped in 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Sixers, who have won three of four but remain a longshot to capture a playoff berth.

Al Jefferson led his team with 20 points and eight rebounds and Delonte West scored 16 for Boston, which had a two-game winning streak come to and end and continues to carry the Eastern Conference's worst record. Paul Pierce did not play in the game due to a sore elbow.

Philadelphia scored the last five points of the first quarter -- including a Louis Williams three-pointer with just one second on the clock -- to assume a 25-20 lead.

Boston went ice cold in the second quarter, going just 1-of-13 from the floor and committing seven turnovers in the final 10:30 as the Sixers assumed a 44-31 lead by intermission.

The home team broke off a 14-2 run in the midst of those struggles, including four straight points by Korver that pushed the advantage to 14 with 3:06 on the clock. Andre Miller capped the surge with a pair of free throws moments later to make it 44-28.

Korver ended the half with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and Iguodala had 11 points and seven assists before the break.

Boston came storming back, outscoring the Sixers 27-23 in the third to cut its deficit to nine before clawing back to tie it in the fourth. The key was a 7-0 burst, which Leon Powe polished off with two from the charity stripe with 7:19 remaining to knot the score at 70-70.

West tied it again at 73-73 moments later with a driving layup, but Korver countered with a triple from the left baseline to put his club ahead for good. That was the start of a 10-2 spurt for the Sixers, who assumed an 83-75 lead with 2:25 on the clock following a Miller free throw.

The Celtics got no closer than five the rest of the way.

Devils down Flyers

By Angelo Saggiomo
The Phanatic Magazine

Martin Brodeur made 14 saves and earned his 45th win of the season as New Jersey downed Philadelphia, 3-1, at Continental Airlines Arena.

Michael Rupp, Travis Zajac and Jay Pandolfo each scored for the Devils, who have already clinched a playoff berth and have won three of their last four games.

New Jersey moved into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Atlantic Division. Both clubs each have 100 points with four games remaining.

Simon Gagne tallied the lone goal for the Flyers, who have dropped five of six. Martin Biron stopped 21 of the 23 shots he faced in defeat.

"It's tough to give up two goals at the end of the period, especially in this building," Biron said.

After a scoreless first period, New Jersey took a 1-0 lead when Rupp tipped in the puck with 1:20 left in the period. Brad Lukowich and Andy Green notched assists on the goal.

Then, just 70 seconds later, Zajac tallied on the power play with a six-foot backhander, following assists from Zach Parise and Brian Rafalski.

Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 14:03 mark in the third on Gagne's 23-foot slap shot. Mike Knuble and Joni Pitkanen setup the goal with assists.

Pandolfo added an empty-netter with 15.6 seconds remaining in regulation to account for the final margin of victory.

The Flyers finished 0-for-3 on the man advantage.

The shaky skipper

A pretty interesting piece by Bill Conlin in the Daily News today, reminding the reader that Uncle Charlie didn't plug reigning MVP Ryan Howard into the cleanup spot until early July last season.

He went back and forth between the No. 6 and 7 spots during April, when the team sputtered out to a 10-14 record.


Phils in pursuit of Toronto's Francisco Rosario

FoxSports is reporting that the Phillies are one of three major league teams that have made trade offers for Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Fransisco Rosario.

The 26-year old Rosario can hit 96 mph on the gun and sports a good split-fingered fastball but his slider is shaky and he may be the odd man out in the Jays' bullpen.

Rosario is also out of minor-league options so the Jays are taking offers.

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 34 - Chase Utley

Chase Utley is likely good enough -- as in grand slam in his first big league start, a .290 career average and a 35-game hitting streak during 2006 -- to warrant a personal screening of An Inconvenient Truth.

The star second baseman may have found his purpose in every word and stunning shot of former Vice President Al Gore's Academy Award winning film.

So much so, that he joined the virtual protest against global warming on Of course, he also managed to find time for a wedding and a new contract in the offseason -- tying the two together in holy matrimony.

One day after tying the knot with UCLA alum Jennifer Cooper (far right), Utley joined in unison with the Phillies on a new seven-year, $85 million contract.

Regretfully, The Phanatic Magazine couldn't obtain any video from that kickin' honeymoon because I don't think couples normally register for $85 million big ones.

Now, Utley and the Phillies are a partnership for the rest of his baseball life -- leading him well past his prime to the veteran age of 35.

"My plan is to stay a Phillie for life," said Utley, a rare phrase uttered among stars of this city's major sports franchises. "There aren't too many young players who get this kind of security so early in their careers."

The security came from a first two full years to remember -- filled with home runs, head-first slides and an attitude remarkably similar to this city's over-arching dynamic.

"He's a player other organizations dream about having," said assistant general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. The dream became a reality when the Phillies bent from one of general manager Pat Gillick's hard-line stances -- no-trade clauses. The club handed Utley a limited no-trade clause, weighing his talent far more than management principle.

The Southern Californian's big break occurred in June 2005 when the club sent Placido Polanco to Detroit for bullpen arm Ugueth Urbina and infielder Ramon Martinez.

Urbina is now in solitary confinement for 14 years in his native Venezuela, while Martinez plays for the Dodgers. But those three players in their only little way gave Utley the chance to shine.

And he did so brightly, no longer part of a platoon with Polanco while getting regular at-bats in the heart of the Phillies order. He finished the season with 28 home runs, 105 runs batted in, 16 stolen bases and a .291 batting average.

He had truly arrived.

Then he went out and backed it up with an even better statistical season, clubbing 32 home runs with 40 doubles, 102 RBI, 15 stolen bases and a .309 average, all leading to an All-Star Game berth and a seventh place finish in the National League MVP voting.

After a year-plus of diamond excellence, the Phillies rewarded Utley in another way -- making him (along with Ryan Howard) the face of the franchise. Bobby Abreu was shipped to the New York Yankees in a deadline deal and Pat Burrell had been dragged through the mud by fans and media alike.

This was now partly Utley's team -- and he planned on leading just the way he played, pushing players toward their best by example. Simply put, Utley would quietly (and with every loud crack of the bat) lead by his play, not by his mouth.

"As far as leadership goes, I’m going to continue to play the way I have," he said. "I think a good leader leads by example."

And as Spring Training quickly races upon Opening Day, Utley has continued his rise to stardom. Granted Grapefruit League stats are meaningless when filling out Cooperstown ballots and deciding season-long individual honors, but Utley's first impression with a new contract in toe is the same as his previous one.

This guy is really good.

He leads the club with six Spring homers and 17 runs batted in while hitting for a .349 average and an astounding .746 slugging percentage.

Such on-field play, culminating in a Silver Slugger Award last season, has afforded Utley certain privileges.

So while baseball is his passion, it's entirely possible fighting global warming is his purpose. And what about a sit down with Gore? Has he earned it?

He's likely good enough.

Tomorrow: Ryan Howard

Around the Rink

By Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

Sticks and pucks and checks may break their bones, but spilling blood’s a no-no…

I was hoping to table any further discussion about the nature and place of fighting in the NHL since the topic was pretty well pulverized by any media member with a mullet, a microphone and an axe to grind last week – but Wednesday night’s game between the Flyers and Hurricanes once again brought it to the surface.

With just over six minutes played in the game, Carolina’s Craig Adams leveled Denis Gauthier with a big check along the end boards to the left of Martin Biron. The only problem was, Adams took half the length of the zone to hone in on the defenseman, and hit Gauthier when he was turned squarely against the glass and unaware who was bearing down on him. Gauthier appeared to wrench his shoulder on the play, and was eventually diagnosed with a sprained right wrist. He did not return to action and might miss the last six games of the season if the sprain is severe enough.

On the following shift, Randy Jones sought Adams out and attempted to engage him in a fight, only to see Adams turtle within seconds and the officials break up both players. Jones was sent to the penalty box on a double minor for roughing, while Adams returned to the Carolina bench unharmed and unpenalized.

I was appalled to see once again, that either man could not properly defend a teammate and take one’s punishment by a mutual dropping of the gloves. Adams showed absolutely no backbone by refusing to stand up for himself against Jones. Even if Adams had done so and just hung on as Jones rained blows upon him, drawing a coincidental major, it would have garnered him more respect in some quarters than just curling into a ball on the ice and waiting for the officials to come to his rescue.

Which brings me to the Fedoruk-Orr incident in last week’s Flyers-Rangers tilt.

It’s always jarring to see one player laying prone on the ice after taking a huge check or a devastating punch, but why is it that Fedoruk’s plight was lumped into the cyclical arguments about removing fighting from the game? If Colton Orr had grabbed a skilled player like Simon Gagne and leveled him with that right to the face – OK, you’ve got a point about senseless retribution. However, since both players were of equal stature on the ice (both tough guys on the ice to specifically keep the peace), Fedoruk’s falling within two punches solely means that he suffered the embarrassment of losing a fight he should have made more interesting.

If anything, the fact that he was concussed on the play and suffered significant damage to a face which already has plates and screws affixed to it, means that Fedoruk maybe shouldn’t fight anymore. Which means maybe he should retire. To suggest that fighting be removed from the game simply because a renowned fighter was shown lying helpless on the ice in a 10-second television highlight is ridiculous.

I recall an incident involving a Flyers brawler in November, 1992 at Boston Garden. Bruins forward Brent Ashton (6’1” 210) had been needlessly bugging defenseman Ryan McGill (6’2” 200) throughout the first period of that game, until McGill decided to take matters into his own hands. From a face-off, McGill grabbed Ashton, a goal scorer nearing the end of his 14-year career – by the jersey with his right hand, and in one motion, pounded a left squarely under Ashton’s left eye. The force of the blow knocked Ashton backwards and made him hit his head on the ice and suffer a concussion. By the time the Bruins training staff got him to the bench, his left orbital bone was shattered, colored a grotesque purple and red. Nobody then took the reactionary stance and called for the elimination of fighting, or a suspension for McGill in spite of the damage one punch caused to a skater not known for fisticuffs.

The solution to the issue really isn’t to ban fighting – even though that would be the path of least resistance. The solution is one deeper and far reaching, something the league refuses to admit while touting a faster and more skilled game. If the NHL truly wishes to curtail damage done to players, it should instruct its scouts and general managers to select smaller and lighter players instead of the six-foot-plus 200-pound-plus behemoths prowling the ice today.

Remember, it was only because of the impact Eric Lindros had on the game that a bigger and heavier player became the norm starting in the mid-1990’s. Now that Lindros and players of his size and bulk are exposed as too slow in the new NHL, why not start taking the 5’10” 180 guy with soft hands and a mean streak instead of stocking rosters with Zdeno Charas? Nobody ever suffered a crushed face when Rick Tocchet or Pat Verbeek fought years ago, and Brian Gionta (5’7” 185) has acquitted himself well as a smallish skilled player in his brief career.

Still, to the lawyers who populate the league office in New York, it’s all about the “Mean World Theory,” and the fact that a family of four in the Midwest who are casual fans won’t want to become true fans when they see organized violence on the ice if they’ve already seen a healthy dose of bloodshed on the nightly news.

His last name’s not Brodeur, but his first name is Martin, and it’s pronounced the same way, and that’s gotta be a sign, right?

Martin Biron and his agent finally hammered out a two-year deal on Monday, which allows the goaltender to remain in Philly for at least the next two full seasons. This provides the Flyers with their first Number One goaltender, with a proven record, in the prime of his career, since the beginning of Ron Hextall’s second stint with the team (1994-99).

We’re not going to count Robert Esche, a project upon his acquisition from Phoenix, since he never developed into a bona-fide top netminder despite one good postseason. Ditto to Brian Boucher, who gained the organization’s confidence based off one good year as a back up and one spectacular save in the playoffs and promptly fumbled it away. Roman Cechmanek was too unpredictable and inconsistent to be taken seriously, John Vanbiesbrouck was at the end of his career, and both Dominick Roussel and Tommy Soderstrom were average at best.

The difference is, Biron comes to Philly having earned a starting job with Buffalo until head coach Lindy Ruff decided to give the keys to the kingdom to Ryan Miller. Is he a difference maker, able to carry a team on his back like Brodeur, Ed Belfour, and Roberto Luongo? Probably not, but he’s light years better than the names in the previous paragraph, and since goaltending does so much to set the tone for the rest of the club, Biron should be a huge piece of the puzzle in getting the team back on track.

Now, that the money’s no longer an issue for the Quebec native, he can work on finding the nearest gas station from his new house.

Coyotes Ring of Honor? That’s just “Ducky”…

The Phoenix Coyotes will honor Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk by inducting him into the franchise’s Ring of Honor next week. Only Bobby Hull and Thomas Steen, both former Winnipeg Jets, have earned the distinction. My answer to that is: What took them so long?

Hawerchuk basically saved the Jets franchise upon his arrival in 1981. Turned a team that won nine games in 1980-81 into a dynamic club that skated stride-for-stride with Edmonton and Calgary throughout the 1980’s. Although Steen played with the Jets for over a decade, and Hull was the face (and hair) of the team in its WHA days, Hawerchuk was the best player and developed into the finest leader the team has ever had in his nine-year tenure. Plus, there was very little argument that he was the finest center in the NHL next to Wayne Gretzky in that period. OK, so he played for three other clubs before his retirement unlike Steen, who ended his career there. But no other name says “Jets” like Hawerchuk’s does, and it’s a crime that Phoenix waited ten seasons after the move to have a night in his honor.

Fans college age or older remember him as the player traded here from St. Louis in March, 1996 for Craig MacTavish. He posted 20 points in 16 games that year, then added 12 goals and 34 points, including a hat trick in 1996-97. With the Flyers that season, he reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the only time in his career, a fitting way to bow out after an arthritic hip caused a premature end to his playing days at age 34.

Hawerchuk was widely credited as the calming veteran voice after the Tampa Bay Lightning took a two games to one lead over the Flyers in their 1996 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. He led the way through Flyer wins in Games 4 and 5 as the Orange and Black regained control and eventually closed out the Bolts in six.

…and one more thing…

If there is anything to be said about a quick turnaround for a franchise down on its luck, remember this: Twenty-two years ago this past Wednesday, the 1984-85 Flyers, the youngest team in professional sports history, won a division title with a 3-1 win over Detroit at the Spectrum. The Flyers trailed Patrick Division-leading Washington by 11 points in early February, and clinched while 10 points ahead of the Capitals.

That club, coached by Mike Keenan, featured 10 players under the age of 22. However, it featured a skilled, veteran defense and a goaltender who lost a starting job the year before only to rebound with 40 wins. There is hope, which can hopefully not be confused with hype.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Temple extends Staley

By John McMullen
The Phanatic Magazine

Temple University women's head basketball coach Dawn Staley signed a six-year contract extension on Thursday.

"We are pleased to announce that Dawn Staley will continue to serve as the head coach of the Temple University women's basketball program," said Temple University president Ann Weaver Hart. "Dawn has made Temple one of the top women's basketball programs in the nation, and she has done it the right way."

The Philadelphia native is a two-time Atlantic 10 Conference Coach of the Year(2004, 2005) and has guided the Owls to four conference championships over the past seven seasons. Her best season came in 2004-05 when she led Temple to a 28-4 overall mark, and a perfect 16-0 record in A-10 play.

Staley also made history at Temple when her 2004-05 team became the first-ever Owl women's basketball squad to garner a national ranking.

Staley was a three-time All-American while starring at the University of Virginia (1989-92), where she helped the team to a 110-21 record and four appearances in the NCAA Tournament, three of which led to the Final Four.

In the pros, Staley is a five-time WNBA All-Star and was selected to the league's All-Decade Team. She is also a three-time Olympic gold medalist forTeam USA.

"Dawn Staley has excelled in every aspect of her life -- as a student-athlete, as a professional player, as an Olympian and here at Temple as a head coach,"said Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw. "She has inspired young women throughout her life, and given back to the community through the Dawn Staley Foundation. She is a Philadelphia icon and provides Temple women's basketball with an image commensurate with the University's mission of access to excellence."

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

By Steve Lienert
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 33 - Jimmy Rollins

According to Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies are ready to J-Roll right into the playoffs, which would be a first for him in his career.

Much of that may hinge on Rollins, who has finally accepted his role as the leadoff hitter of the franchise.

Let's flash back to 2004, the year Kenny Lofton made Rollins' leadoff experience a pleasant one. Let's also remember that that team was Bobby Abreu's team and Pat Burrell's team, not Chase Utley's and Ryan Howard's.

Back then it seemed that Rollins was too cool for school, which wasn't unlike the attitude of other "team leaders" on the '04 version of the Fightin's.

But this is '07 and clearly Rollins' attitude has undergone an adjustment.

He's already come out and said that the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East.

And he's backed that up in spring training with 22 hits in 57 at-bats for a robust .386 batting average. His 12 walks and .493 on-base percentage both lead the team this spring, but perhaps more importantly, he's struck out just four times and he has swiped five bags thus far.

Rollins has seemingly accepted his role in this baseball life. He's a leadoff hitter and a table-setter for the bigger guns further down the lineup, even though he fancied himself as one of the big guns himself.

He's also stepped up in the leadership category, especially since the Phillies dealt Abreu to the Yankees last summer. He seems more comfortable as part of the Utley- Howard regime, and a happier Rollins is a more productive Rollins.

He's also one of the best fielding shortstops in all of baseball. He's never committed more than 14 errors in a season and he made just 11 gaffes in 446 attempts in 2006.

While Mets' shortstop Jose Reyes gets most of the hype, Rollins is as close to Reyes as anyone can get without actually being Dominican.

Come Monday, here's hoping he can put his bat where his mouth is.

Tomorrow: Chase Utley

No worries, Phillies fans

By Tim McManus
The Phanatic Magazine

I know, their performance this spring has you rethinking your postseason predictions, right?

Their best hitter is floating around the Mendoza line; several of the key figures will be lucky to escape Florida with a .250 average; the new pieces haven't exactly been lighting the world on fire; the bullpen's been spotty...

Maybe you're right -- maybe the Mets are doomed.

Oh, we're talking about the Phils?

Could've fooled me. Take a look at the vitals from the defending NL East champs:

-- Carlos Delgado is hitting an even .200 with no homers.

-- Paul Lo Duca is batting .208; Moises Alou has nine hits in 57 tries (.158); and David Wright has one homer to 16 strikeouts.

-- Shawn Green touts a .145 average with 15 Ks.

-- Ambiorix Burgos is 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA; Chan Ho Park, destined for the bullpen, has an identical earned run average, and has coughed up four home runs already.

This has added up to a 10-20 record, good for dead last in the National League.

The Nationals, penned in by some to hit the 120-loss mark, are three games better than the team that ran away with the division last season.

And it all means notta thing.

Hopefully, this brings perspective.

If you think that Ryan Howard is due to follow up his Rookie of the Year and MVP seasons with a dud because of his performance in Spring Training, than you must say the same thing about Delgado, who has a .282 career average and is usually good for 35-40 homers a year.

If you think that Aaron Rowand's going to struggle because of his .185 mark, than what does that imply about Alou, who's hitting .143 points below his career average?

The results mean nothing. Sometimes teams tear it up in Spring Training and start the season off ice cold (like the Phils over the past two seasons, for example). Sometimes it's the opposite, and sometimes a team has a regular season that mirrors their spring -- but it's never because of it.

The two must be kept separate, because in the exhibition season, strategy and normal behavior are largely stripped away.

For example, a pitcher may throw three innings, with the focus being on hammering out the kinks in his changeup. So where he'd normally throw nine changeups over that span, say, he'll throw 22 instead.

His line may read: 3 IP, 7 hits, 3 runs, 1K, 3BB because the batters have picked up on a trend, but as long as he got his changeup working by the end of the outing, it was a successful day.

Hitters, too, often approach their at-bats differently. Maybe Howard has been working on punching hits through the left side of the infield to take advantage of a shift. Pat Burrell might be focusing solely on fending off outside strikes. Rowand could be adjusting to a new stance.

Of course, most fans aren't privy to this kind of information, and are forced to form an opinion through a box score or a TV set.

It's all a big, long stretch before the marathon, though. To search for meaning in the outcome -- especially when minor league players are heavily involved -- is an exercise in futility.

You have the whole summer to worry; enjoy the last few games here, when your closer can give up a three-run shot in the ninth, and there will still be a nice round "O" in the loss column.

It doesn't matter 'til it matters.

Tim appears on this page every Thursday. You can contact him at

Phillies Rumor Mill: Coste to St. Louis?

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

The Philadelphia Phillies are desperate for bullpen help. So desperate, they may trade their feel-good story of 2006.

A source told The Phanatic Magazine Thursday that talk around the league has the Phillies entered into discussions with the St. Louis Cardinals about the possibility of a Chris Coste-Ricardo Rincon swap. That rumor -- one of what appears to be several on Pat Gillick's stove as Opening Day approaches -- makes sense following Delco-Times staff writer Dennis Deitch's proposition Thursday that the Phillies best bargaining chip in search for bullpen help could be Carlos Ruiz.

Phillies brass may feel Coste is the better chip, or maybe even outfielder Michael Bourn. In Wednesday's Rumor Mill, Phillies message board were talking about the possibility of a Bourn-Taylor Tankersley trade with the Marlins. Research we've done shows Tankersley's health is still in question, and there was no mention of such a trade in today's editions of the Inquirer or Daily News.

However, there has been talk about Francisco Rosario, a pitcher in camp with the Toronto Blue Jays. It is possible the Phillies may be waiting to see if Rosario doesn't make the 25-man roster, sending him to waivers where they could scoop him up. Rosario has had an excellent Spring with the Blue Jays after a 1-2 record with a high 6.65 ERA in just 17 games for Toronto last season.

Back to the beginning, Rincon missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff. The left-handed specialist was a workhouse for Oakland in both 2004 and 2005, appearing in 67 games each season. He posted a 3.68 ERA in 44 innings during the 2004 season.

At the moment, Matt Smith -- acquired in the Bobby Abreu trade with the Yankees last summer -- is the only southpaw in the bullpen.

Georgetown is Here -- to Win it All

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

Now four days removed from the unveiling of a new basketball building in Chapel Hill, the Final Four ascends upon downtown Atlanta -- a cultural and tourist haven full of transplant Northeastern businessmen, fine dining and multiple night spots to wet any pallet.
By the way, that new basketball building in the heart of North Carolina's campus was built with bricks -- the same ones thrown up over the final 10-plus minutes of the East Regional Final.
Finishing your season 1-of-20 from the floor is never a good conclusion, but instead of reveling in the Tar Heels' utter offensive collapse, credit should be given where credit is due.
Georgetown is the best defensive unit left standing -- yes, not UCLA --, and that's the reason the Hoyas will cut down the nets in the Georgia Dome on Monday night.
Jonathan Wallace and Jesse Sapp play longer than their respective 6-1 and 6-3 frames, and both are the basketball equivalent of jacked. It's one thing to have muscle, it's another to use that muscle to dictate tempo, throw off rhythm, drain an opposing backcourt.
That's why the team that never wears down was left with its collective hands on its hips during overtime. There was no doubt Georgetown was the fresher team in the face of Roy Williams' 12-man turnstile over the course of 45 minutes.
The Hoyas are also multi-faceted, ever-changing in their defensive approach, going zone late in the game with seven-foot tower Roy Hibbert clogging the middle. Georgetown is long enough on the perimeter and instinctive enough to anticipate skip passing. And then there is the art of basketball IQ -- to which the Hoyas' basic fundamental defensive shifting resembles a Van Gogh painting.
When playing man defense, you better believe there is an overplay just one pass away. Three passes away from Tar Heel swingman Reyshawn Terry? Jeff Green's butt is firmly planted in the middle of the paint.
That's what makes the defense so suffocating. It's not the pressure, it's the relentless nature. And the flexibility, as there aren't many players like Green left in college basketball. A 6-9 forward with a guard's feet to man up Ty Lawson one possession and a bruiser's strength to front Tyler Hansbrough on the post just minutes later.
This is all basketball lingo for very good -- but because the Hoyas don't have Greg Oden's NBA appeal, Joakim Noah's hair or Aaron Afflalo's name, they are the forgotten team in Atlanta this weekend.
Just the way they want it.
With all the attention going to Billy Donovan's Kentucky love affair and the Gators' road to a repeat, Ohio State's fabulous freshmen and its bumpy road to Atlanta and UCLA's suffocating defense coupled with its rematch against Florida, there isn't much attention left to go around.
Again, fine with the soft-spoken John Thompson III, the pass-first, go-to-guy Green and the turn-back-the-clock, Afro and high-tops Hibbert.
It would be dangerous to assume the Hoyas are centered on Green's mid-range game and Hibbert's back-to-the-basket hooks and hoops. Wallace is shooting 56 percent (9-of-16) from beyond the arc during the tournament, while Summers and Sapp have also made six three-pointers.
The unforgotten trio played large against North Carolina on both ends, with Summers pouring in 20 points, Sapp adding 15 and Wallace scoring 19 -- including the game-tying three from the left wing near the end of regulation.
They also excelled on the defensive end of the floor, pressuring Lawson and fellow freshman Wayne Ellington to the point of physical submission. In overtime, North Carolina's two perimeter targets didn't have their legs.
Throwing stiff-legged shot puts instead of high-arching majestic jump shots was the cumulative effect of no-nonsense defensive fundamentals.
Conley can dance. Noah can scream. UCLA head coach Ben Howland can bend down in a defensive stance. It's all flashy for the camera, but it won't last over 40 minutes.
Georgetown isn't going to Hoops Hollywood this weekend, it is entering college basketball's test of attrition -- one they already won against the team that never got tired.
Until it faced the Hoyas.
The new brick building in Chapel Hill should have a plaque at its entrance, "Courtesy of Georgetown basketball. The 2007 national champions."
Jared Trexler can be reached at

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

20 Questions Heading Into the Baseball Season

By John Gottlieb
The Phanatic Magazine

Here is the first half of a two-part series on the most pressing questions heading into Opening Day on Sunday.

1) Can the Cardinals repeat with so many unknowns in their starting rotation?
It seemed highly unlikely that the Redbirds would win last year’s World Series with Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan. Now the backend of their rotation is AdamWainwright, Braden Looper, and Anthony Reyes. Just ask Carlos Beltran how good Wainwright's stuff is. Despite good springs, Kip Wells and Braden Looper aren’t a recipe for success. However, any team with Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds won’t just rollover. Mark Mulder won’t be back until the middle of the season, and St. Louis will have to patch it together until then.

2) Is Jimmy Rollins right?
Are the Phillies the team to beat in the NL East? Rollins probably should have waited until the Phillies had actually done something, but his words aren’t far-fetched. The Phillies made the biggest offseason move in the NL East with the addition of Freddy Garcia. He’s an innings eater that will benefit from pitching in the NL during the last year of his contract. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley make up the best right side of any infield in the big leagues. Tom Gordon and Cole Hamels will have to stay healthy, and Pat Burrell must make some sort of impact with the bat to push this team to the next level. Philadelphia’s first 14 games are against the Braves, Mets, Marlins, and Astros so it will have to start the season with a bang or face a big hole before the calendar turns to May. The Mets are the team to beat since they won last year, but only an utter collapse will keep the Phillies out of the playoffs.

3) Is this the year A-Rod delivers a World Series to the Yankees?
The question should be can A-Rod get the Yankees out of the first round of the playoffs? I can’t see them losing in the first round three years in a row, but their pitching is too old, and Joe Torre beats on his bullpen. Early injury problems with the starting pitching have made the signing of Roger Clemens an even bigger need. Trading away aging players made the New York farm system one of the best in the baseball. The Yanks aren’t ready for another title, but soon they will go on another run. Rodriguez will have a big season, but leave New York without a World Series ring after the season.

4) Will the Mets’ rotation provide enough depth until Pedro Martinez returns?
It’s hard to have a lot of confidence in Oliver Perez, John Maine, and a No. 5 starter to be named later. It’s not the Mets’ rotation that will hold them until Pedro returns in August, it’s their lineup. They boast an American League lineup in an inferior National League. While Phillip Humber isn’t ready yet, Mike Pelfrey is and he may be the answer to New York’s rotation woes.

5) Are the White Sox still better than the Cubs?
Despite getting rid of Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd and a minor leaguer, and jettisoning Brandon McCarthy, the Pale Hose are better then their crosstown rivals. The White Sox lineup is still stacked and is roughly the same one that won the World Series two years ago. The leash for center fielder Brian Anderson is getting shorter and shorter. Scott Podsednik needs to set the tone for the offense and defense, which is something he didn’t excel at last year. Expect a big year from Mark Buehrle, who is going to be a free agent and will cash in big time. They’ve got one of the best offenses, a solid rotation, and a deep bullpen.

6) In the land of Barry’s, will Bonds be indicted by the grand jury for perjury before breaking Aaron’s record, and is Zito enough of an ace to bring the Giants back to the postseason?
No and no. The grand jury has been investigating so long that it’s probably safe to assume that no indictment is coming. For god’s sake Greg Anderson seems willing to sit in jail for the rest of his life before he rats on Barry Bonds. Bonds will break the record and then there will be a movement not to recognize it or put an asterisk next to his name. Since Bud Selig and the MLBPA dragged their feet with the drug policy there is no way to deal with this issue. Getting Barry Zito was a start, but the team is so old. Pedro Feliz is the youngest starter and he’ll be 32 in April. Bruce Bochy is a fantastic manager, but the Giants will have to fight to stay out of last place.

7) Are the Braves ready to reclaim the throne atop the NL East?I
t’s bad news whenever you are forced to count on Mike Hampton. The oft-injured pitcher is already done for at least the first month and he was the Braves’ No. 3 starter. Tim Hudson needs to rebound from a poor 2006. They got rid of Marcus Giles and Adam LaRoche, both big pieces of their infield. The Braves got a solid reliever, which they sorely needed, for LaRoche, but couldn’t get anything in return for Giles, who is a former All-Star. Mike Gonzalez will be a shut down pitcher late in games, but Bob Wickman has a habit of making things interesting in the ninth. The addition of Rafael Soriano was big, but Atlanta just doesn’t have enough to compete with the Phils and Mets.

8) Will the $300 million spent by the Cubs buy them a playoff spot?
This trend of buying your way to a title hasn’t followed through in the past few years. Yes, the Yankees have the highest payroll, but that hasn’t gotten them another championship. The Cubbies play in a difficult division where there are four teams that are contenders. The Cubs’ pitching is still suspect, and because of that they will be on the outside looking in when it comes to October. Carlos Zambrano is a stud, but Rich Hill is unproven, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis are average at best, and Mark Prior and Kerry Wood can’t stay healthy. Chicago will score a ton of runs, but it won’t have the pitching to back it up.

9) Who is the Twins’ No. 2 pitcher?
Don’t have a guess? It’s Ramon Ortiz, who has a career record of 79-76. It’s funny how nobody talks about theTwins that much, but they are right in the thick of things every year. Ron Gardenhire will have his work cut out for him without Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano. However, Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Joe Nathan will keep the Twins in the playoff hunt. Look for a big year out of Torii Hunter, who is in the walk year of his contract.

10) Is this the year the Red Sox catch the Yankees for the AL East crown?
The answer to this question lies solely on the arms of Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Boston bullpen. J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo aren’t the difference makers on an already potent offense. If Matsuzaka is as good as expected then yes the Red Sox can and probably will end the run of nine straight AL East titles for the Yankees. The Red Sox bullpen gave up 279 runs from the seventh inning or later last year, which was second-worst in baseball (Kansas City gave up 320), and that’s why the bullpen got a facelift. Jonathan Papelbon needs to stay healthy for the Red Sox to make a run.

Flyers best Hurricanes

By Bob Herpen
The Phanatic Magazine

Jeff Carter's two goals and one assist led the way as the Philadelphia Flyers posted their biggest win of the season over the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1, at the Wachovia Center.

Simon Gagne had a pair of helpers for the Flyers, who halted a four-game skid. Mike Knuble notched a goal and two assists, while Derian Hatcher and Braydon Coburn also lit the lamp.

The win did not come without cost, though. Defenseman Denis Gauthier left the game on a questionable hit from behind by Carolina's Craig Adams early in the first period as Gauthier was turned towards the glass. He suffered a sprained right wrist and did not return.

Martin Biron stopped 23 shots to earn the win in his first start since signing a two-year deal to remain with the club.

Ray Whitney provided the lone offense for the Hurricanes, who have dropped two straight following a three-game win streak.

John Grahame surrendered four goals on 24 shots for his second consecutive loss.

Despite a paltry 11 shots through the first 40 minutes, Philly took to a one- goal lead into the third period against the defending Stanley Cup champions, then added three more scores to skate away with a surprising victory.

Knuble put the Flyers up 3-1 at 3:55 of the third when his no-look backhand shot from along the goal line hit the net just above a fallen Grahame.

Coburn's right point shot that hit a body in front and deflected home put the orange and black ahead by a 4-1 count at 5:07 and effectively wrapped up the game.

Grahame went to the bench with more than a minute left in regulation, and Carter batted a puck out of mid-air into the empty net with 33 ticks left to close out the scoring.

The loss keeps Carolina in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 84 points, two behind eighth-place Montreal.

The Flyers went up 1-0 with 6:29 to play in the first on Carter's 12th goal of the season. On the play, Carter wheeled around the net from the right wing to the left, causing Grahame to lose his stick in the process. The puck came to Joni Pitkanen for a shot that was deflected in the slot by Knuble right back to Carter for a slam-dunk into a half-open net.

It was 2-0 with 12:05 to go in the second as Hatcher notched his third of the year, a rare power-play goal, finishing off a three-on-one in close by redirecting Stefan Ruzicka's pass through Grahame from the slot.

Midway through the period, Carolina was awarded a penalty shot as referee Wes McCauley determined Flyers defenseman Lasse Kukkonen prevented a Hurricanes power-play chance from going into the net by closing his hand on the puck. Justin Williams took the shot, which Biron stopped with the top of his right pad.

However, only four seconds before intermission, Carolina got on the board to make it a 2-1 game. Whitney's low slapper zipped along the ice from the left point, and slid through Biron, who was screened in front.

Wizards down Sixers

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

DeShawn Stevenson scored a season-high 28 points, as the Washington Wizards came away with a 111-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Returning from a left knee bruise, Caron Butler scored 21 points for Washington, which snapped a three-game losing streak and attained a one-half game edge over the Heat for the lead in the Southeast Division. Miami lost at Toronto Wednesday night.

Gilbert Arenas netted 20 points and Antawn Jamison added 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Wizards, who just lost the top spot in the division after Monday's setback to the Utah Jazz in the finale of a five-game road trip.

Andre Iguodala notched 26 points and 15 boards for Philadelphia, which is 10-5 over its last 15 games. Samuel Dalembert posted 24 points and nine boards for the Sixers. Andre Miller notched 16 points and seven assists, while Kyle Korver contributed 14 points off the bench.

With the Sixers trailing 105-103, Iguodala's jump shot attempt rimmed out, and Jamison converted a pair of free throws on the other end for a two-possession game with 21.5 seconds on the clock.

Iguodala then took the inbound pass at the top of the key and crossed over his defender en route to an open dunk, courtesy of Korver's high screen, with 14.7 seconds left. Butler immediately got fouled less than a second later and made both free throws for another four-point margin, 109-105.

Iguodala next came up short on a quick three from the left corner, but Korver grabbed the rebound and got the ball right back to him. From virtually the same spot on the floor, Iguodala drained the second try with 5.7 seconds to go for a one-point game.

Arenas was fouled 1.2 seconds later and converted both free throws. Washington had a foul to give and used it, giving the Sixers just 2.2 seconds with which to work, trailing by three.

Iguodala fought through a double team and could only get off an awkward three- point attempt, failing to draw any contact from either defender, as the Wizards held on for the win.

Antonio Daniels' three-point play with 7:33 to go in the fourth put Washington ahead 97-82, but Philadelphia wasn't finished. The Sixers scored seven straight to cut their deficit to single digits, 97-89, approaching the halfway point of the stanza.

Philly continued to rally by going on a 10-0 burst down the stretch and Korver's trey with 2:07 left tied the score at 101.

The Sixers exploded out of the gate on an 18-8 run, finished by a Steven Hunter dunk with 4:41 remaining in the first quarter. Washington came alive down the stretch by going on a 7-0 spurt, snapped by a Louis Williams jumper with 11 ticks left for just a 25-22 deficit heading into the second.

After Jamison scored on a jumper and Stevenson on a layup in the opening two minutes of the second, the Sixers briefly reclaimed control. Iguodala converted a pair of free throws that sparked an 11-4 run, which put the Sixers ahead 40-32.

The Wizards responded by scoring the next 13 points, and Stevenson's trey with 3:53 remaining put them ahead 45-40. They took a 52-49 margin into the locker room.

Philadelphia regrouped and opened the second half on a 10-3 burst, capped by a Rodney Carney jumper approaching the halfway point of the stanza for a 59-55 lead.

With the score knotted at 69, Washington closed the third on a 11-4 run, though, as Darius Songaila's bank shot with eight ticks left put the Wizards up 80-73 heading into the fourth.

20 questions heading into the baseball season

By John Gottlieb
The Phanatic Magazine

Here is the second half of a two-part series on the most pressing questions heading into Opening Day on Sunday.

11) Will Roger Clemens be the difference maker after the All-Star break for the Red Sox, Yanks or Astros?
He’ll be a difference maker, but to who is the question. Carlos Lee has added offense to the Astros, who have been anemic in the Rocket’s starts. Clemens’ best friend, Andy Pettitte, is in New York. Then there is Boston. Does Roger want to go back where it all began? Clemens is a guy that cares what people think of him. If he goes to Boston then the people in New York will despise him. If he goes to the Big Apple then the fans in Houston and Boston will hate him. But if he goes to the Astros then he’s pretty much in the clear. Houston has to be the odds-on favorite to land the Rocket even though the Red Sox and Yankees give him a better chance at a title.

12) Are the Tigers a one-year wonder in the stacked AL Central division?
Definitely not. The Tigers came out of nowhere in 2006 but they will not sneak up on teams in 2007. Jim Leyland is one of the most highly respected managers in the game. The Tigers have outstanding, young pitching in the rotation and in the bullpen and have one of the deepest lineups in the big leagues. The addition of Gary Sheffield provides a much-need dose of power. If anyone can reach the deep alleys in Comerica its Sheffield.

13) Will we see a postseason Freeway Series?
It’s entirely possible. The Angels added Gary Matthews, Jr., Shea Hillenbrand and Justin Speier, while the Dodgers coughed up more than $125 million on Juan Pierre, Luis Gonzalez, Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, and Mike Lieberthal. Schmidt is a question mark at this point in his career, and Wolf looked decent after coming back from arm surgery last season. The Dodgers spent too much money on Pierre, but at least he’s a consistent hitter. The Angels wrote Matthews a huge check and he’s had one good season. That and who knows what he’s been getting in the mail. The Angels are so deep that they don’t have to rush Bartolo Colon back after rotator cuff surgery last year. Both teams have deep bullpens and scary lineups. They should play deep into October.

14) Can Fredi Gonzalez get as much out of the Marlins as Joe Girardi?
It seems hard to believe that one year you’re the Manager of the Year and the next you’re broadcasting games on the YES Network, but that is the life of Joe Girardi. Gonzalez took his place to lead an overachieving team that won 78 games last year. It’ll be tough for Gonzalez to match that. The starting pitching was better than anyone expected, but Josh Johnson is out for the first month and Anibal Sanchez had arm problems over the winter. Dontrelle Willis went from 22 wins in 2005 to 12 in 2006. Teams are salivating at the chance to acquire the southpaw. Miguel Cabrera is a great hitter and a steal at $7.4 million. A huge payday is coming soon. However, with a suspect bullpen Florida won’t be as good as it was last year.

15) Will the additions of Bud Black, Greg Maddux, and Marcus Giles push the Padres to the top of the NL West for the third year in a row?
How many of you even knew that the Padres had won three straight division titles? Bud Black finally gets his chance to manage and has a strong pitching staff to work with. While Jake Peavy and Chris Young are the aces of the staff, Greg Maddux was a good signing. The addition of David Wells is a plus, but how much does he have left in the tank? Hopefully, Marcus and Brian Giles can push each other to play better in their hometown. Kevin Kouzmanoff is a star in the making at third base. The lack of a proven leadoff and cleanup hitter is something that Black will have to deal with, but this team is poised for a fourth straight NL West title.

16) Who are the Brewers?
Milwaukee is a contender in the NL Central, which needed only 83 wins to crown a champion. The Brew Crew has a pitching rotation to compete with anyone in the division as long as Ben Sheets can stay healthy. Francisco Cordero regained his closer form from a few years ago and took Derrick Turnbow’s job. Bill Hall is emerging as a star and will get the chance to start in the outfield. There’s no reason to think that this club can’t make a run. The Brewers can use Geoff Jenkins as a piece to trade if they need to improve their pitching come the trading deadline. Milwaukee has a lot of talented, young players in the outfield. They could be one of the great surprises of the season.

17) Does the return on Randy Johnson make the D’backs NL West contenders?
Here is another team, much like the Brewers, that should come out and compete for a playoff berth. Other than getting back the Big Unit and a pair of pitchers from Milwaukee, Arizona was relatively quiet this offseason. Luis Gonzalez, Craig Counsell, and Miguel Batista are all gone to make way for the continuing youth movement. Homegrown talents Chris Young, Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, and Conor Jackson will keep this team in contention. NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb is joined by Johnson, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis for a powerful rotation. Johnson should enjoy being back close to home in the desert, where there isn’t as much scrutiny and he can be as surly as he wants. His dominant days are done but he can still win 16-17 games a year. He’ll become one of the last 300-game winners sometime next year. The bullpen is the weak link for the Diamondbacks.

18) How will the A’s respond after losing their best pitcher, best hitter and manager?
Oakland lost Frank Thomas, Barry Zito, and Ken Macha, and will respond by keeping things interesting for the Angels in the AL West. Nobody is sure how they've done it, but they've made the playoffs in five of the last seven campaigns. The A’s will go on their annual 15-game winning streak and be in thick of things. This will be the year that Rich Harden stays healthy and dominates the league. Oakland has a good, young pitching staff and a fabulous closer. Eric Chavez must rebound after a subpar 2006. Bobby Crosby must prove that he can stay on the field and play at least 145 games, which is something he’s only done once.

19) Has the NL narrowed the gap with the AL?
The Senior Circuit has slowly gained some ground on the American League, but the AL is still stronger. There are at least six teams (Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Tigers, Angels) that no one would be surprised if they won the World Series, while there are maybe three in the NL. Everyone was shocked that the Cardinals hoisted the trophy last season, but they got hot at the right time and used surprisingly good starting pitching to beat the Tigers. There hasn’t been a repeat winner since the Yankees in 1999 and 2000, so the odds of the Redbirds doing it are highly unlikely. The two biggest contenders from the NL have to be the Mets and the Dodgers. The AL, which has won 10 of the last 15 World Series and 16 of the last 19 All Star games, is still the dominant league and should prevail in the Fall Classic.

20) Who are next year’s big free agents?
Ichiro Suzuki, Andruw Jones, Torii Hunter, Carlos Guillen, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Zambrano, Mark Buehrle, Mariano Rivera, and Freddy Garcia will all be free to shop their services. Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Jason Isringhausen, and Jorge Posada have club options, while A-Rod has an opt-out clause.

Warden back to Indians

Something must be brewing. Either that, or for the first time in over a decade the Phillies are prepared to hand a youngster (Joe Bisenius or Zack Segovia) a prominent role in a mix-and-match bullpen.

Jim Ed Warden, who many thought earlier Wednesday was about to make the Opening Day roster, cleared waivers and was grabbed by his former club Cleveland, according to a report on The News Journal out of Wilmington, Delaware.

That leaves Tom Gordon, Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson, Geoff Geary, Matt Smith and likely Clay Condrey with cemented spots in the bullpen. The Phillies could still pick up a relief pitcher via trade or off waivers before Opening Day on April 2 versus Atlanta.

Earlier Wednesday, the club released outfielder Karim Garcia.

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

By Michael Rushton
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 32 - Pat Burrell

If hindsight is 20/20, what is Pat Burrell, because the Phillies left fielder may still not be seeing things clearly.

Coming off a disastrous 2006 season, Burrell hasn't had a calm, relaxing spring either.

First came the verbal assaults from both Dallas Green and Mike Schmidt, coupled with the unkept secret that the Phillies tried -- and failed -- to move him in the offseason.

"When their careers are over, they are going to wonder how much they left on the table, how much they left on the field," Schmidt said in reference to Burrell and Cincinnati's Adam Dunn. "If only they had choked up with two strikes, spread their stances out. What they are doing now is not great. It is mediocrity."

All of that added fuel to the already popular winter discussions that the Phillies impending success hinged on Burrell's ability to protect last season's MVP, Ryan Howard, in the lineup.

Throw in a mix of back pains, numerous questions about Burrell's troublesome right foot and his brand-new contact lenses, and all of that about sums up the most talked about player this offseason.

Wouldn't it be great if Burrell's eyes were the only problem the slugger was having? If his dismal 2006 season, a campaign that saw him hit just .258 and strikeout 131 times in 144 games, was the product of poor vision only? Perhaps Burrell just couldn't see the runners on base, prompting him to bat just .222 last year with RISP.

But in fact, Burrell isn't even using the contacts.

"I could understand if I went to them and said, 'I'm not seeing anything,'" Burrell told "I never complained. This guy gave me a screening and said, 'You need to come in.' I said I'll try them. They don't help."

So it's not so early with Burrell, who has done little to silence his critics this spring. In 19 games so far, he is hitting just .204 (10-for-49) with three doubles, three homers and nine RBI. He has fanned 14 times as well, which is actually fewer than Howard and Chase Utley.

Burrell, though, feels he is coming along and is finally healthy. Maybe he just can't read the stat sheet.

"I think I'm progressing pretty good," said Burrell in an article on

"It's just a matter of being healthy," he later added in the story. "That's the whole key."

Still, it's Burrell's inconsistency that is most frustrating, especially to the fans. It may be easier to accept Burrell for what he is if he was always bad. But the left-fielder turns it on one year, and then off the next.

In 2005, he batted .281 with 32 homers and a career-high 117 RBI. In 2002, he blasted a personal best 37 homers.

Yet, he has batted more than .260 just twice in his seven-year career. He has also struck out 1,017 times to just 569 career walks.

Even in his biggest hindrance last year, he was madly inconsistent. With runners in scoring position, if I'm reading the stats correctly with my glasses on, Burrell hit .300 against lefties. However, he hit only .195 against right-handers.

Overall, only four of his 29 home runs last season came with runners in scoring position. Alarmingly, the only person not concerned about Burrell's RISP numbers is manager Charlie Manuel.

"When you look at that, people pick that out," manager Charlie Manuel told the Trenton Times in a Tuesday article. "But let me tell you something: that happens all the time. I guarantee you that some of the greatest hitters in the game didn't have a high percentage of knocking runners in from second base sometimes. Some of them, for their entire careers didn't have a high percentage and got away with it."

Predicting Burrell's season is near impossible, but his impact will be great. A 2005 Burrell batting fifth will no doubt vault the Phils to the top of the East. An '06 Burrell will make it that much harder and, depending on how you view the argument, could hurt Howard as well.

Some things are just tough to see.

Tomorrow: Jimmy Rollins

Former Phil gets 14 years in prison

Former Phillies pitcher Ugueth Urbina was sentenced to 14 years in prison in his native Venezuela on Wednesday for the attempted murder of five workers on his family's ranch.

Karim Garcia released

With Pat Gillick at the controls, you just never know. In a surprise move just five days before Opening Day, the Phillies released outfielder Karim Garcia on Wednesday.

Garcia was having a solid Spring at the plate and an adventurous one in the field. After playing in Japan the previous two seasons, Garcia batted .305 with one homer and seven runs batted in during Grapefruit League action.

However, Charlie Manuel, who managed Garcia during the 2001 and 2002 seasons in Cleveland, constantly stated that he felt the outfielder needed 250-300 at-bats to be effective.

He wasn't going to get those in Philadelphia's outfield, so the club cut ties on Wednesday. The move all but assures Greg Dobbs and Michael Bourn (unless he is traded per The Phanatic Magazine Rumor Mill) will both make the Opening Day roster.

Chris Coste is likely to start the season on the disabled list, but a bench spot could be his eventually. The club would like to give Bourn regular at-bats, something he will only achieve at Ottawa.

That is only if Aaron Rowand is still a Phillie, and not traded for last-second relief help before April 2nd's showdown with Atlanta.

It should be a crazy couple of days as the roster sorts itself out. The Phanatic Magazine will keep you up to speed on every development.

Phillies Rumor Mill

When The Phanatic Magazine unveils its new web home sometime in the near future, a major section will feature rumors from newspapers and web site's nationwide about your Philadelphia area sports teams.

Juicy tidbits from plugged-in beat writers and industry sources will only add to The Phanatic Magazine's all-encompassing area coverage. Staying with our roots, the rumor mill will be updated in blog style throughout the day with information as we find it.

Today, we offer a sneak preview of such coverage as Opening Day approaches for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ezequiel Astacio. You've probably heard of the hard-throwing former Phillies farmhand. A club desperate for bullpen help almost to the point of grasping at arms put in a waiver claim for Astacio, according to industry sources. However, Texas beat out Philadelphia for his services because of a worse record last season (Philadelphia Daily News).

Another arm that may surface is Francisco Rosario. The club had scouts and a radar gun present with the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Tuesday. If he doesn't make Toronto's Opening Day roster, Rosario would need to clear waivers before being sent to the minors. Rosario has posted a 3.38 ERA in seven Spring appearances (Philadelphia Daily News).

How about Michael Bourn for Taylor Tankersley? Several Phillies message boards have been lit up by a rumor started earlier this morning, one that would send the Phillies outfield prospect to the Florida Marlins for the left-hander Tankersley. The pitcher could possibly be damaged goods -- with a inflammed left shoulder about one month ago. However, the Miami Herald reported that an MRI and follow-up exam found no structural damage. Tankersley was 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in 49 games for the Fish last season, and with Matt Smith as the only left-hander slated to be on the Phillies' Opening Day roster, the deal may not be so far fetched. Bourn has had a great Spring, and many penciled him in as the club's Opening Day center fielder in 2008. Stay tuned...(

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

35 Reasons to Believe

The Phanatic Magazine continues its preseason coverage of the Phillies, profiling one player per day to get you set for the 2007 campaign. Our 35 straight days of Phillies coverage kicked off on February 25th, and will continue to roll until Opening Day on April 2nd. Then we will hand it over to Michael Rushton, who will provide an in-depth season preview before the first pitch is dealt.

By John McMullen
The Phanatic Magazine

Day 31 - Shane Victorino

Addition by subtraction -- you hear it often in sports.

It can't be quantified but you sure know it when you see it.

On paper replacing Bobby Abreu with Shane Victorino looked like a big step backwards for the Phillies. And a numbers guy like Bill James would have told you it was suicide.

There's only one problem with all of that, the Phillies did get better with the lesser but grittier player.

If you were wondering where Victorino developed his passion for the game, look at his journey to the big leagues. The fleet-footed outfielder was born in Hawaii and the Islands are not exactly known as a baseball hotbed.

But, Shane took advantage of his only chance. While scouts were in Honolulu observing pitching prospect Jerome Williams, Victorino put on a show as a blazing fast high school shortstop on the neighboring island of Maui.

"Everybody scouting [Williams] in Oahu heard about me in Maui," Victorino told "All of a sudden, in my senior year, there were all these people in nice collared shirts and slacks. It was nice to get that chance and the recognition."

The Dodgers were the most impressed and took him in the sixth round of the amateur draft. Eventually, Victorino signed for $115,000 and was off to the mainland.

The Phillies swiped him from Los Angeles in the 2004 Rule 5 draft and then worked out a deal to keep him after he failed to make the team out of the Grapefruit League. It was a wise decision. Victorino blossomed at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre in 2005, earning the International League's MVP Award.

Still, no one could give a remotely compelling argument saying that Victorino was a better baseball player than Abreu on the surface. Bobby was a fantasy geek’s wet dream. But, something was missing. Whether it was hustle, desire, the yearn to win or just chemistry with his teammates, Abreu’s time had run its course in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, Victorino had already impressed many as the fourth outfielder early in 2006 and played even better when he was thrust into the starting lineup, first as an injury replacement for Aaron Rowand in center before taking over right when Abreu was sent to the Bronx.

In 153 games (80 starts), the Hawaiian hit .287 with 19 doubles, eight triples, six homers and 46 RBI. Defensively, he was a huge upgrade over Abreu and led the team with 11 assists.

Now firmly entrenched as a corner outfielder in a game obsessed with power, Victorino hopes to flash a little more pop to go along with his speed and defensive prowess.

“I'm comfortable now,” Victorino said. “It's another year of maturity, and I'm trying to get better every year.”

Tomorrow: Pat Burrell

Flyers ink Biron to two-year deal

By Tim McManus

The Flyers officially signed Martin Biron to a two-year contract extension, the terms of which were not released.

"We are extremely pleased to get this done," said General Manager Paul Holmgren. "Marty has come in and played well and we look for him to be a solid goaltender for us for the next two years."

The 29-year-old Biron has posted a 16-9-2 record with a 3.01 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 29 games this season between the Buffalo Sabres and the Flyers.

Over parts of seven NHL seasons with Buffalo (1995-96 and 1998-99 to 2006-07) and the Flyers (2006-07), Biron has compiled a 138-120-30 record, 2.54 GAA, .910 save percentage and 18 shutouts in 310 career regular season games.

Flyers close to locking up Biron

By Michael Rushton

The Philadelpha Flyers are close to signing goaltender Martin Biron to a two-year contract. Both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News reported the imminent deal on Tuesday, with Ed Moran of the Daily News saying the deal could be done today.

"We're close," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren told the Daily News. "This is a really good thing for the Flyers. It's a little more than I wanted to spend. But I don't think we could afford to let it get to July. I don't think we would have lost him, but it could have been risky."

According to Moran, the deal will pay Biron $3.5 million a year. Tim Panaccio of the Inquirer, citing league sources, said the two-deal will be worth about $6.8 million.

Biron has played in 10 games with the Flyers this season and is 4-5 with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. The former first-round pick in 1995 has a career 2.54 GAA.

The move is the latest by Holmgren as he quickly attempts to rebuild his proud franchise. He has jettisoned center Peter Forsberg to Nashville for the growing fan favorite Scottie Upshall and a defensive prospect, in addition to solidifying the blue line with Braydon Coburn and Lasse Kukkonen.

The signing of Biron at least means the Flyers did not entirely waste the second-round pick they sent to Buffalo for the netminder, who was set to be a free agent this offseason. Had he not re-signed with Philadelphia, the high draft pick would have been nothing more than a very high rental price for a team way out of the playoff race.

More importantly, Biron will now give the Flyers a clear-cut number one goaltender for the next two seasons, something the Flyers haven't had for a while as numerous goalies have fought and won the position.

It also means netminder Robert Esche will be playing somewhere else next season.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Eagles get Spikes, Holcomb

-Courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired linebacker Takeo Spikes and quarterback Kelly Holcomb from the Buffalo Bills on Monday for defensive tackle Darwin Walker and a conditional 2008 draft choice.

“Takeo Spikes is a proven playmaker in the National Football League,” said Eagles general manager Tom Heckert. “He has the ability to play all three linebacking positions and we’re happy to add him to our defense. Likewise, Kelly Holcomb is also a proven veteran who will add depth behind Donovan McNabb and A.J. Feeley.”

A two-time Pro Bowl selection in 2003 and 2004, Spikes (6-2, 242) is a veteran of nine NFL seasons (Buffalo 2003-06, Cincinnati 1998-2002). In 2004, Spikes registered his best all-around season, posting 111 tackles, a career-high five interceptions, and three sacks. Spikes recorded 76 tackles and one sack in 12 games in 2006 upon returning from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the third game of the 2005 season.

Originally a first-round draft choice (13th overall selection) of Cincinnati in 1998, the 30-year-old Spikes went on to play five seasons for the Bengals, where he totaled 689 tackles, 14.5 sacks and five interceptions in 79 games. In his career, Spikes has played in 126 games (125 starts), and recorded 1,038 tackles, 21.5 sacks, and 12 interceptions.

He has been responsible for 26 “disruptive plays” in his career (14 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions). Spikes also has scored four career touchdowns (three interception returns, one fumble return).

A native of Sandersville, GA, Spikes left Auburn for the NFL following his junior season in 1997. That year, he garnered All-America honors and was named the national defensive player of the year by various publications.

Holcomb (6-2, 212) is a veteran of 11 NFL seasons spent with four different franchises. Prior to backing up starter J.P. Losman in 2006, Holcomb had appeared in 10 games (eights starts) for Buffalo in 2005, completing 155 of 230 pass attempts for 1,509 yards and 10 touchdowns. In his career, he has completed 523 of 810 pass attempts for 5,401 yards and 37 touchdowns.

The 33-year-old, Fayetteville, TN, native saw his most extensive playing action in Cleveland where he spent the 2001 to 2004 seasons. In that span, he appeared in 19 games (12 starts) for the Browns, posting 3,438 yards and 26 touchdowns. Prior to his stint in Cleveland, Holcomb spent five seasons as a reserve in Indianapolis (1996-2000). His only game action during that time came in 1997 when he appeared in five games (one start). Holcomb began his career in 1995 when Tampa Bay signed him as an undrafted free agent. He spent six weeks on the Buccaneers practice squad that season.

A four-year starter at Middle Tennessee State, Holcomb appeared in 43 games and finished as the school’s all-time leader in completions (501), attempts (801) and passing yards (7,064).

How sweet it is: Another Final Four without the ACC

MLB predictions, Peyton on SNL, a fantasy baseball bust and other rambling from the week that was in sports.

By Greg Wiley
The Phanatic Magazine

First, I want to apologize for missing last week's column. I was bombarded with emails this past week asking where the "ramblings" were, all I can say is sorry. I was held up in bed sick as a dog and couldn't muster enough energy to ramble. So I'll have to make up for it this week.

Let's start with the NCAA Tournament. How great was it that the Tar Heels blew a 10-point lead against Georgetown with six minutes left on Sunday and were outscored 31-9 to end the game? As a Big East guy, I was rooting for the Hoyas and put the "Wiley Mush" on the Tar Heels when I proclaimed that the game was over after North Carolina went ahead by double digits. I love tricking the Gods of fate that way.

Coming into the tournament many "experts" were touting the ACC as the best conference in the country, with seven squads making the Big Dance. Yet by the end of the second round there was only one left (UNC). ACC powerhouses, Duke, Virginia Tech and Maryland were beaten by mid-major programs (VCU, Southern Illinois and Butler, respectively), while Georgia Tech was ousted in the first round by Mountain West program UNLV.

Now, for the second straight year the Final Four doesn't have an ACC representative, marking the first time since 1979 and 1980 that the ACC failed to have a Final Four team in consecutive years. I think this means that we can officially stop calling the ACC one of the best conferences in the country for a while. At least I will...

Sticking with the tournament, I'm sure most of you will be glad to hear I can finish third in my pool. After having three of my Final Four teams advance (UCLA, Florida, OSU -- Texas let me down), I can get third-place money if UCLA beats Ohio State in the final. My prize? Not sure, but after the start I had to the tourney I'll take the third place finish without any cash...

Sunday is the start of the baseball season, so before things officially get underway let me give you some of my pre-season predictions. First, my division winners are as follows: Mets (NL East), Cardinals (NL Central), Giants (NL West), Yankees (AL East), Twins (AL Central) and Rangers (AL West). The wild card teams will be the Phillies and the Indians. The Rangers will beat the Mets in the World Series. I say that only because you have to remember that the two other teams that fired Buck Showalter won the World Series the very next year. Texas canned Showalter in favor of Ron Washington after last year.

As for the awards, Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano will win the Cy Young awards, Lance Berkman and Alex Rodriguez will win the MVP awards, and Arizona's Chris Young and Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka will take home Rookie of the Year honors. Don't fear Phillies fans, Brett Myers will garner attention for the Cy Young award, while Chase Utley will finish higher in MVP voting than Ryan Howard, but both will be in the top-10...

By the way, anyone still think that Kevin Durant should be drafted over Greg Oden? You're crazy if you do...

Anyone catch Peyton Manning on Saturday Night Live? I managed to see a few skits and caught most of the highlights. Among the funniest were his spoof on the United Way commercials and his joke about what the circus and Tom Brady have in common. I also liked the line about a little pee coming out. He did a good job of making fun of himself. Like him or not as a quarterback, he's a pretty funny guy...

I finally had my fantasy baseball draft this past Saturday, and boy did I drop the ball. As you know I'm in a keeper league and held on to Utley, Howard, Manny Ramirez, Carlos Lee, Brandon Webb and Ryan Zimmerman. I drafted fifth overall and my first three picks were Adam Dunn, Rafael Furcal and Myers. Needless to say I'm not happy with my team. I didn't get one player I had targeted and on a couple of occasions selected a player I didn't want (why? I don't know). One round I took Scott Rolen and in another I picked Josh Beckett. I continually passed on a player I liked, hoping he would make it back to me in the next round -- and he didn't. Players I wanted and missed out on include, Alex Rios, Scott Kazmir, Francisco Rodriguez, Ricky Weeks, Brian Roberts, Matt Cain and Adam Wainwright. Moral of the story. Take who you want regardless of the round.