Thursday, March 31, 2011

Soul snares local TV Deal

The Philadelphia Soul and WMCN TV jointly announce an exclusive local television carriage deal for the remainder of the 2011 season.  The schedule of six live televised games kicks off on Saturday, April 9, and concludes on Saturday, July 2.

WMCN TV, available to customers of Comcast, Verizon FiOS, DIRECTV, and The Dish Network, reaches more than 2.6 million households throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, central and southern New Jersey, and Delaware. 

With the addition of the six games to be shown on WMCN TV, the Soul will also be featured in three NFL Network games to a national audience.  Now, eight of the nine road games can be seen on television.  All of the Soul’s games can also be seen via “AFL Live” (live video stream) on the team’s website –

Orlando Predators
Saturday, April 9
7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 15
7:05 p.m.
San Jose SaberCats
Saturday, April 23
10:30 p.m.
Iowa Barnstormers
Saturday, April 30
8 p.m.
Cleveland Gladiators
Saturday, May 21
7 p.m.
Spokane Shock
Saturday, June 11
8 p.m.
Saturday, June 25
7:05 p.m.
Dallas Vigilantes
Saturday, July 2
8:30 p.m.
Friday, July 8
8 p.m.
CAPS are home games; *All times listed are Eastern Time

“We are pleased to be able to bring the Soul to the fans with a great partner like WMCN,” said Soul VP/COO John Adams.  “This partnership with WMCN provides us the best opportunity to supplement our NFL Network coverage with local television exposure worthy of an ArenaBowl champion.”
The Soul are 1-1 after two games and open their home season on April 15 at the Wells Fargo Center.  

“We are very excited to add the world champion Soul to our lineup,” said Jon Gorchow, President of Lenfest Broadcasting LLC, the parent company of WMCN.  “We look forward to providing our viewers with more and more of these of high-profile, high-quality original programs in the future.”

Veteran sports broadcaster Lou Tilley will provide play-by-play for the Soul games. Tilley will be joined in the broadcast booth by Bill Osborn, who will provide color commentary. 

Soul fans should check local listings for WMCN channel locations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sixers inch closer to playoff berth; top Rockets

Philadelphia - Jrue Holiday scored 24 points and 12 assists as the Philadelphia 76ers inched closer to a playoff berth with a 108-97 win over the Houston Rockets, 108-97.

The Sixers could have clinched a postseason spot tonight with a win and a Charlotte loss but the Bobcats hung on to defeat lowly Cleveland, 98-97, in the Queen City.

Philadelphia's magic number to secure a playoff slot is now just one with seven games to play and the team could do it with a win over New Jersey at Wells Fargo Center on Friday.

"One step closer, 39 wins now, which is fabulous," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "We don't lose two in a row at home which is great. This Houston team has been playing great, great basketball so that was a very quality win for us tonight."

Thaddeus Young, despite suffering a groin injury in Chicago on Monday, came off the bench to score 22 points and add nine rebounds for the Sixers, who were coming off a big upset win over the Bulls. Lou Williams contributed 15 points and five assists, while Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes both scored 12.

Andre Iguodala was ineffective offensively, scoring just nine points on 3-of-8 shooting but dished out 10 assists and snared eight rebounds.

Former Villanova star Kyle Lowry, who has a career-high 36 points against the Sixers earlier this season in south Texas, led the Rockets with 19 points. Kevin Martin netted 18 points, while Luis Scola had 16 and Chase Budinger finished with 15 for Houston, which lost for the second time in three games and fell further back of Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"In the start of the fourth quarter, they opened it up and, like I said, we just didn't have enough energy to come back and make stops," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said.


*The Sixers had 12 assists in the first quarter, their high water mark for helpers in any frame this season.

*Attendance was 16,635.

*Philadelphia finished the season with a 16-14 mark against the Western Conference.

*Sixers swept the season series versus Houston for the third time in four seasons.

*Philly is 6-1 in 2010-11 when recording 30-or-more assists.

*Holiday has 12 double-doubles.

*Young outscored the entire Rockets bench 22-20. The Sixers are 10-2 when Thad scores 20-or-more.

Baseball predictions for 2011

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Magazine

The last time I dipped into a pool other than that of professional hockey, I was forced to be glued to the television as Roy Halladay turned in the second no-hitter in postseason history. So what better time than now to try my luck with some MLB predictions for the upcoming season.

NL East
Phillies (93-69)
*Braves (90-72)
Mets (84-78)
Marlins (78-84)
Nationals (73-89)

NL Central
Cardinals (91-71)
Reds (85-77)
Brewers (77-85)
Cubs (76-86)
Astros (75-87)
Pirates (63-99)

NL West
Giants (92-70)
Rockies (85-77)
Padres (81-81)
Dodgers (80-82)
Diamondbacks (65-97)

AL East
Yankees (96-66)
*Rays (94-68)
Red Sox (92-70)
Blue Jays (81-81)
Orioles (69-93)

AL Central
Twins (92-70)
White Sox (90-72)
Tigers (80-82)
Indians (72-90)
Royals (66-96)

AL West
Rangers (92-70)
Angels (88-74)
Athletics (85-77)
Mariners (67-95)

* Wild-card winners

NL Playoffs
Cardinals over Phillies
Giants over Braves

Giants over Cardinals

AL Playoffs
Yankees over Rangers
Twins over Rays

Yankees over Twins

World Series
Yankees over Giants

I think the Phillies' time as a bona-fide World Series contender has not yet passed, but there's a reason we called 2008 "The Perfect Season." All the crazy crap that usually befalls the other 29 teams from March through September didn't happen until the night the Phils were supposed to win and clinch the title -- and by then neither the Baseball Gods nor the ineptitude of the Commissioner's office could keep them from destiny.

Since then, a string of odd occurrences both on and off the field have derailed their quest to win another Fall Classic. In 2009, it was the atrocious home record due in no small part to the constant demands on their time in the community after winning it all, along with the fact that the Phils simply wilted when confronted with a better baseball club in the New York Yankees.

Last season, it was the inconsistent offense that just could not bail out all the quality pitching.

I think we're looking at another slide this season, first and foremost because it's just got to be tiring playing at an elite level for several years with the rest of baseball breathing down your neck. I can't help but feel that the stacking of the deck with the Four Aces will not be enough to overcome the lack of a bullpen, a relatively thin bench and the questions that remain about Chase Utley, the right-field quandary and hitting in key situations.

By no means am I suggesting it won't be a sweet ride -- just look at what I tabbed as the Phils' record -- but that another team whose one-shot deal is on the table will take them down. Sadly, that means in the space of four seasons, Philadelphia will go from World Series winner, to runner-up, to league runner-up to not making it out of the first round.

Temple's Allen tabbed for Reese's College All-Star Game

Temple University senior forward Lavoy Allen will compete in the Reese’s College All-Star game that will take place this Friday, April 1 at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

The game will be televised live by TruTV with tip time scheduled for 5:35 pm ET.

Allen ended his career as Temple’s all-time rebound leader (1,147) and 24th on the all-time scoring list with 1,421 points. He also moved into third place on the all-time blocked shots list with 213 and his 98 career wins in a Cherry and White uniform place him eighth in the program’s history. The 6-9 forward from Morrisville, Pa. (Pennsbury HS) also compiled 41 career double-doubles, including eight in his last nine games.

Named first team all-conference for the second straight season and to the league’s all-defensive team for the third time, Allen led Temple and ranked second in the Atlantic 10 Conference in rebounding with an 8.6 average. He also led the Owls in blocked shots with a career best 61 and finished second on the squad in scoring with an 11.6 average. He also grabbed double-figure rebounds in 16 games, including nine straight to end the season.

Allen will be joined on the East All-Star team by fellow seniors: Dwight Hardy (St. John’s), Brad Wanamaker (Pittsburgh), Chris Warren (Mississippi), Austin Freeman (Georgetown), Mike Davis (Illinois), Gary McGhee (Pittsburgh), Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Vlad Moldoveanu (American) and Jimmy Butler (Marquette).

The West All-Star team is comprised of Andrew Goudelock (College of Charleston), Tai Wesley (Utah State), Kenneth Faried (Morehead State), Malcolm Thomas (San Diego State), Kalin Lucas (Michigan State), Tristan Thomas (North Texas), Alex Stephenson (USC), Mickey McConnell (St. Mary’s), Cameron Jones (Northern Arizona) and Gary Johnson (Texas).

Soul will finally get to unveil championship banner

courtesy of Philadelphia Soul the April 15 home opener...

Phils release 2b Castillo

The Phillies have released second baseman Luis Castillo after a seven-game tryout.

Journeyman Wilson Valdez is expected to start at second base in Friday’s opener in place of the injured Chase Utley and the team will likely carry either Pete Orr or Delwyn Young on the bench.

Stories of the heart: Final Four teams used ticker to advance

By Jared Trexler

Philadelphia, PA - Baby-faced Brad Stevens has traveled the professional world over the last 24 months, to an improbable Final Four, and now, back again.

And yet his feet have never left the ground.

His fondness for the psychological side of the game has spearheaded the perspective he puts on Butler's ascension to the game's upper tier. When asked if the ride Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and a group of undeterred Bulldogs were on was unbelievable, Stevens scoffed at the notion that the journey would end any other way.

"Believable is a better term," he said. "It is a more positive term, it makes you live life a little bit better, it makes you a bit more thankful for the opportunities and take advantage of them."

After hearing that, and without ever meeting the game's brightest young coaching mind, I want to run through walls for this guy, which makes the barriers Mack and Howard broke through, to steal Stevens' verbiage, "believable."

Coaching cliches tell you that basketball's bounces always even themselves out in the end, but then how do you explain the breaks Butler received through the Southeast Regional?

It's easy; they created them with the mind and took advantage of them with the savvy IQ and "right-place-right-time" mantra plastered on the Bulldogs' white board from time to time. First, it was Howard's last-second lay-in off a loose ball scrum to beat Old Dominion in the second round. Then, it was the "what- were-you-thinking fouls?" that evened themselves out in the final seconds against Pitt, overshadowing what should have been the game-winning play called by Stevens in a timeout and run to perfection by Shawn Vanzant and Andrew Smith.

And then it was Stevens' wise-beyond-his-years feel for his players with the game slipping away against Florida, which executed its own game plan perfectly for nearly 35 game minutes, pounding the ball into Vernon Macklin to exploit the soft spot in the defensive post. The Gators also used a 2-3 zone focused on Mack, letting their back line cover the rim while their perimeter defenders extended their scope.

Stevens told freshman Chrishawn Hopkins to the enter the game, which wouldn't seem like a big deal if he hadn't played only seven minutes since January 19 and just one garbage minute in the Bulldogs' run through the Horizon League Tournament. Hopkins answered the call, dishing off to Howard for an easy basket and draining a trey moments later, trimming a nine-point deficit to four, allowing doubt to creep into the Gators' collective minds. Hopkins didn't make a last-second shot, but he provided the momentum Butler needed, and then the veteran stars rode it to force overtime and take control in the extra session.

Only a coach with complete faith in every dressing player would make such a bold move with the game, and the season, slipping away. That mindset is what makes the unbelievable much more believable in the mind of Stevens, who has pushed a mid-major school into the conversation of today's best programs.

Stevens didn't settle for last season's carpet ride that came within a revolution of finishing the made-for-TV movie with a national championship. He didn't believe that run was Butler's best, but to ironically steal a movie mantra, the best was yet to come.

Mid-major programs just don't make the Final Four -- George Mason in 2006, and Penn and Indiana State in 1979 -- let alone back-to-back trips, putting the Bulldogs in rarified air with North Carolina, UCLA, Florida and Michigan State, the last four teams to accomplish the feat. Maybe it's time we stop calling the Bulldogs hoops' version of Cinderella, stop shaking our heads at countless escape acts and what we perceive as miracles.

It's time to put the slingshots and glass slippers away, and come around to Stevens' side, the winning side of believability.

That aura of confidence traveled west to San Antonio, where the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, the same team that tanked three conference games down the stretch and finished fourth in a mid-major conference, were honing in on one of the tournament's all-time upsets.

Shaka Smart, the hottest name in coaching circles after using Bristol, Connecticut's dismissiveness to motivate his already talented team, was draining every ounce of determination from his outfit down the stretch.

As Kansas coach Bill Self marveled after his Jayhawks were torn apart by VCU's hard-charging tornado, "If we played shirts and skins today you wouldn't have much of a difference on players or how they look. They certainly outplayed us."

The depth of talent around the country is a topic for another day (perhaps in summer's dog days), but simply speaking, the gap has certainly closed, and fast. The Rams were the faster, more aggressive team, continually knocking the Big 12 regular-season and tournament champions back without letting up. They stuck their chests out and scoffed at the notion they would have to take the air out of the basketball and play a 180-degree reversal of their characteristic up-and-down game. They believed they could run, press and disrupt the nation's most-efficient offense while punishing the tournament's best defense off the dribble. The belief came from the brash, high-energy Smart, who jumped, danced even stood toe-to-toe with official Ted Valentine during a sideline exhibition that may have tired out onlookers, but gave life to those who mattered most.

Smart's relentless nature rubbed off on his players, who buried a barrage of threes and never stopped shooting and attacking, even when conventional wisdom may have called for a more prudent position or two with the lead down the stretch. The Rams wore down the mighty Jayhawks, who missed 21-of-23 treys because, in Smart's mind, had tired legs.

"If you watch closely, their players were tugging at their shorts for much of the game," said Smart. "When you don't have your legs, it's hard to make outside shots."

Not only did the Jayhawks never find their legs, but also couldn't quite find their footing after racing to an early 6-0 edge only to trail by as many as 19 points in the first half. The inevitable run came, narrowing the deficit to two, but the uphill climb sapped even more energy, and VCU's unabashed bravado, swagger and heart -- the traits of their coach -- never let them feel the nerves as the Morris twins brought Kansas to the edge of the lead.

These Rams now will sprint to Houston, and if they have their way, to ESPN's plush studios after the first Monday night in April. VCU has proven it belongs with a combination skill, led by point guard Joey Rodriguez and Wake Forest transfer Jamie Skeen, and sass befitting of Smart's personality and the "us- against-the-world" mentality he instilled several weeks back in Dayton.

From the First Four to the Final Four, all along the way, Shaka the World.

And then there are the two heavyweights of the Final Four, Connecticut and Kentucky, both with their own stories of perseverance and heart that led them to Houston.

Kentucky is clutch; it has proven so time and time again in this tournament with Brandon Knight's game-winner against Princeton to his three-point dagger to suck the wind out of North Carolina's sails after the Tar Heels had fought back from an 11-point first-half deficit to tie the game at 67 with just over three minutes to play.

That extra moxie, the ability to rise up to moments that warrant it, are traits that separate this team from last season's star-studded unit led by John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. Last year's team may have been faster, stronger and more talented, but John Calipari's 2010-2011 Wildcats play more cohesively, complement each other and know their roles. Knight is the assassin, fearless and undeterred; DeAndre Liggins is the veteran glue guy; Josh Harrellson, the inspirational boar who throws his weight around, creating space for his teammates and enjoying the game's necessary dirty work. Together, this group of young and old has brought Kentucky back to the Final Four for the first team in 13 years, a startling stat considering the Wildcats' historical place in the game.

It's a marvel that stars like Tayshaun Prince, Rajon Rondo, Keith Bogans, Tyreke Evans and the aforementioned Wall have all worn Kentucky blue without tasting the experience Liggins, Harrellson and Darius Miller will embark on this weekend.

It all goes back to February, when the trio didn't score a single point in a loss to Ole Miss, drawing the exasperated Calipari to question the upperclassmen's leadership. "This is your team. Why are you relying on freshmen?" They stopped putting the pressure on Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones, instead allowing them to play naturally without the weight of Lexington on their shoulders.

Harrellson and Liggins scored 12 each, while Miller added 11, and that is the reason these Wildcats, and not North Carolina's young pups, are heading to Houston. Well, that and the spirit of big-game Brandon and the hearts of the East Regional champions.

While not everything was roses for the Wildcats on the court, the same holds true for Connecticut off the hardwood as the page turned on 2010.

Connecticut had reached the lowest of lows, coming off the program's first 16- loss season since 1986 and allegations of NCAA violations hanging over its head. In February, head coach Jim Calhoun was suspended three conference games next season after the NCAA ruled a recruit was given over $6,000 in improper benefits.

The young Huskies, with seven freshmen co-mingling with the star of the show, Kemba Walker, were not only facing an arduous Big East schedule but the stigma that comes along with suspected bending of the rules.

Connecticut was continually backed into a corner with each winning streak overshadowed by NCAA inquiry. Finally, pushed back against the wall one last time, UConn took on the mentality of its embattled coach and came out swinging, downing Arizona in the West Regional for its ninth consecutive victory in 19 days.

They say it's not advantageous to corner a dangerous predator, and UConn came out strong after being labeled "cheaters" and a "one-man show" for the last time. Jeremy Lamb continued his development with 24 points in the Sweet 16 victory over San Diego State and 19 more (12 in the second half) in the heavyweight bout against Arizona.

And the rest of the Huskies played with just as much vigor, showing the mettle of their coach to get back to their rightful place on the court while attempting to overshadow its current place off it.

"To have people all of the sudden dismiss us (after the last 20 years of success), I took it personally," Calhoun said. "If I take something personal, I'm going to do everything possible to make sure that perception is wrong. "


I'm not sure anyone wants advice from this corner after putting stock in four top seeds, only one which even advanced to a regional final. In a tournament based on streaky play and motivational tactics, each team rode its own story of the heart to Houston, where truly anything can happen.

In my eyes, the Huskies will have the best player on the floor in its matchup with the Wildcats, and will use Jeremy Lamb's length to bother Knight's perimeter game. If Alex Oriakhi can stay out of foul trouble, he should negate Kentucky's low-post scoring, forcing the Wildcats into a perimeter-oriented game that favors UConn.

In the first game, a contrast of styles and a match of wills will be determined by whichever team blinks first, and while VCU has not withered in the stage's increasingly bright lights, an entire week to marvel in its situation should be a factor, especially at the game's outset. Look for Stevens to draw on last season's experience as a major advantage, and Butler will try to force Skeen away from the basket with both Howard and Smith. That capability and the Bulldogs ability to close out on Brandon Burgess and Rodriguez will be the difference in a Butler victory.

In the final, UConn's speed will be an adjustment for the Bulldogs, who have not yet faced a prolific backcourt in this tournament. Walker's quick release can create shots against ball pressure, and Oriakhi's aggressiveness could find the Butler big men in early foul trouble.

From the depths of NCAA ire to the top of the world, UConn will, in this man's humble opinion, reach the top of the college basketball world for a third time next Monday night. 

AL Preview: It's still the Yanks, Red Sox and everyone else

By Chris Ruddick

Philadelphia, PA - After what seemed like the longest offseason ever, Major League Baseball is finally ready to open up shop again this week.

Perhaps it's the constant coverage, but this spring training seemed to linger longer. Twitter has become a terrific resource, but batter-by-batter updates in the spring is just too much, even for baseball diehards.

Anyway, the American League landscape has changed a lot since the end of last season, but a lot has also stayed the same. We start the year the same way we started last season: with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as the favorites to represent the Junior Circuit in the World Series.

Of course, things don't always go on as planned, since neither of those two teams were in the Fall Classic a year ago. As they say, that is why they play the games.

For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis for each division and a look at some of the teams who will try to unseat the Texas Rangers as this year's AL representative:



The Red Sox missed out on the postseason for the first time in four years last season. It's hard to believe they will be watching at home this year following an offseason that saw them land not only outfielder Carl Crawford, but slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in addition to a few bullpen upgrades.

Now if Boston stays healthy in its rotation, the offensive additions will pretty much be a moot point. Jon Lester has blossomed into one of the five best pitchers in baseball and Clay Buchholz seems to be on that path as well. Mix in John Lackey, who should be better than he was his first year in Beantown, and a healthy Josh Beckett, and you have the makings of a staff that could be elite.


New York had set its sights on adding free agent lefty Cliff Lee this winter, but came up empty when he turned down the Yankees' money to go to Philadelphia. To compound matters, Andy Pettitte retired and the Yankees were left scrambling to fill two rotation spots from the likes of young Ivan Nova and aging veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.

The Yankees return essentially the same lineup that scored more runs than any team in baseball last season. Keep in mind the Yankees racked up those 859 runs and 95 wins despite down years from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

New York's pitching isn't as bad as people are making it out to be. For one, their bullpen is as good as it has been in some time with the addition of Rafael Soriano. And two, people are getting too hung up on who a team's fourth or fifth starter will be. Who cares? If A.J. Burnett pitches well it won't matter, and besides, the Yankees have the resources to go out and acquire another starter in July if need be.



The White Sox made a big move in the Central in signing slugger Adam Dunn, but is it enough to get them past the Minnesota Twins? On paper the White Sox look good, but their biggest obstacle may be overcoming their volatile manager.

It's almost amazing to me that Ozzie Guillen still has a job. The constant outbursts, the idiotic remarks, his family insulting the organization. Enough is enough. You can almost let it slide if the team was winning. That World Series title in 2005 is a long time ago, though. His act gets more tired with each season. Mark my words, should the White Sox get off to a bad start this year, general manager Kenny Williams will not hesitate to pull the trigger and replace Guillen.

Even Guillen may not be able to stop the White Sox this year, though. Dunn is a 40-home run guy year-in and year-out, and with him combining with Paul Konerko and Alex Rios, this is a lineup that is going to score some runs. As big of a factor as I think Dunn is going to be, though, the player who may be the most important to the White Sox is second baseman Gordon Beckham, who is poised to have a big bounce-back campaign following a disappointing second season.


While the manager may be the White Sox' biggest obstacle, the biggest reason the Twins are always in the mix is because of skipper Ron Gardenhire, who was the AL's Manager of the Year for the first time in his career last season.

The Twins have won the division the last two seasons without the services of Justin Morneau down the stretch. The first baseman is still feeling the effects from last year's concussion, but should be ready to go at the start of the season. How long he stays in the lineup is another question.

I'm not exactly sure how they do it, but the Twins are just real good at playing baseball. By hook or by crook, they find themselves playing meaningful baseball in the last month of the season. That should be the case again this year.

A lot of Minnesota's success has to do with the fact that the AL Central is mediocre, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Twins are just a top-notch organization from top-to-bottom.


As good as Chicago and the Twins may be, they both could be looking up at the Detroit Tigers, though. The Tigers struggled last season despite a sensational year from Miguel Cabrera, but still managed to finish .500. Cabrera had zero help from his lineup last year, but that should be different with the Tigers' signing of Victor Martinez this winter.

Like Cabrera, Detroit righty Justin Verlander was sensational but had little help from his rotation mates. Rick Porcello came on down the stretch and should be past his sophomore slump, while a lot of people expect flame-throwing righty Max Scherzer to have a breakout season this year.



The Rangers are still the favorites, but they could be in store for a letdown season following their first-ever trip to the World Series.

Without Lee, there is no real ace on this staff. Brandon Webb was brought in to be that guy, but he has barely pitched in the last two seasons and has already been shut down with a sore shoulder. Not to mention reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton is always a game away from a stint on the disabled list.

This whole Michael Young drama could be a distraction, too. though Young seems like too much of a professional to let that happen. That could be the best thing the Rangers have going for them heading into the season.

When Texas missed out on Lee, they signed Adrian Beltre to play third base. I'm not saying that Beltre does not give 100 percent effort all the time, but his two best years have come in contract seasons. Well I guess I am then, huh?


Speaking of injuries ,the Angels had a ton of them last season. The worst, of course, was the broken leg to Kendrys "Don't Call Me Kendry" Morales, who was injured following a walk-off home run celebration in May. Yeah, it was that kind of year for Mike Scioscia's crew.

The Angels had a pretty awful offseason that was highlighted by the trade that landed them Vernon Wells and his enormous contract. Still and all, though, if the Angels stay healthy they have as good a chance as anyone to win the AL West.


The team to watch out West is the Oakland Athletics. General manager Billy Beane has put together a terrific young team, especially in the starting rotation. Brett Anderson broke out two years ago and Trevor Cahill won 18 games last season. This year another one of the young guns, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, could be the breakout starter.

The A's can pitch, but I'm not sure they are going to be able to score enough runs to make a real push for a division title just yet.


TAMPA BAY: Following an offseason fire sale that saw them lose Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, and most of their bullpen, not much is expected from the defending AL East champion Rays. However, they have some terrific young pitching, meaning they could be back with the division's elite sooner rather than later.

TORONTO: The Jays crushed a major-league high 257 home runs last season and still finished fourth in the AL East. They could get to third this season, but more likely they will be battling the Orioles for the division cellar.

BALTIMORE: Buck Showalter seems to have changed the mind-set and identity of this Orioles team. The O's have a pretty good lineup on paper, but I don't think the young pitching is there yet.

KANSAS CITY: The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter by the day, as blue-chip prospects Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer should both be with the team by the All-Star break.

CLEVELAND: Jack Hannahan is the Indians' starting third baseman. Enough said.

SEATTLE: There may not be a team in baseball with less expectations than the Mariners. New manager Eric Wedge has his work cut out for him, but he does have one of the best pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez at his disposal.





Sixers could clinch playoff spot tonight

By Shawn Clarke

The Philadelphia 76ers have proven they are capable of playing with the big boys in the league and that could result in some postseason success.

The playoff-hopeful 76ers are still striving for a postseason spot and will continue their quest tonight at home versus the Houston Rockets. Philadelphia just beat the Eastern Conference's top team, the Chicago Bulls, with Monday's 97-85 road triumph at the United Center.

Thaddeus Young had a big night with 21 points and seven rebounds in a reserve role, and was able to come back after a groin issue. Andre Iguodala contributed 19 points, seven boards and seven assists for the 76ers, who ended Chicago's 14-game home winning streak and prevailed for the fourth time in seven tries. Philly also bounced back from a brief two-game slide.

"We had to play with some poise and that's what we did down the stretch," said Sixers forward Elton Brand, who ended with 13 points and nine rebounds. "We all chipped in and it was a team effort."

The Sixers are currently sixth in the conference standings, two games ahead of New York and four behind Atlanta with eight to play and their magic number for a postseason  berth is down to two. They will clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win and a Charlotte loss. The Bobcats host Cleveland in the Queen City tonight.

Philadelphia will also host New Jersey on this short homestand at Wells Fargo Center and is 23-12 in the City of Brotherly Love this season.

Houston is two games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West and has won six of its last seven games.

In a 112-87 victory in New Jersey last night, Kevin Martin had 20 points, Kyle Lowry shook off a foot ailment to post 16 points and 10 assists and Chuck Hayes grabbed 14 rebounds to go with his eight points for the Rockets, who got 13 points apiece from Goran Dragic and Patrick Patterson.

"We just play. We're just playing good basketball," Lowry said. "Everyone knows their role and everyone knows the type of situation we're going to be in. We're just trying to get as many wins as we possibly can to try to make our push."

The Rockets are 1-1 on a three-game road swing and 17-21 as the guest.

Philadelphia beat Houston, 114-105, on Feb. 16 this season at the Toyota Center behind 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists from Iguodala. The 76ers have won two in a row and six of seven meetings with the Rockets.

Union promote Nowak

Philadelphia Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz announced  that Peter Nowak, the club’s first ever team manager, has been named Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations/Team Manager of Philadelphia Union.

Nowak’s title change is a representation of his extensive duties as they relate to all soccer operations within the Union organization.

"Peter’s new title better reflects his broader responsibilities overseeing our entire soccer operation,” said Sakiewicz. “From day one, Peter has proven to be a talented strategist and his passion and knowledge of the sport suit him perfectly for this role.”

As Philadelphia Union expand their technical programs and soccer operations throughout the Philadelphia region, Nowak will continue to oversee all personnel and activities involving the first team and youth academy.

Nowak joined the Union on May 29, 2009 and since then has served as Team Manager, responsible for all facets of the club's training and on-field performance.  A Major League Soccer legend, Nowak has won MLS Cups as both a player and a coach, the only individual to have accomplished the feat in league history.  A former Polish National Team captain, Nowak served a dual role as Head Coach of the Under-23 U.S. Men’s National Team and assistant to Bob Bradley with the full national team prior to arriving in Philadelphia.

Flyers answer bell with resounding victory over Penguins

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Staring down the barrel of a shrinking division and conference lead following a lethargic 2-1 home loss to Boston on Sunday night, the Flyers suddenly found their on switch 300 miles west.

Ville Leino scored a pair of third-period goals and totaled three points to lead Philadelphia to a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final regular-season meeting between the clubs at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday.

Scott Hartnell added a goal and one assist for the Flyers, who won for the second time in their last five and opened up a four-point edge (102-98) over their still hobbled cross-state rivals in the Atlantic Division.

"We got excited for this game today," said Leino. "It was basically a playoff game for us and I'm sure it was for them. Good road win for us today."

Philly also saw its lead atop the Eastern Conference grow to three points over Southeast-leading Washington after the Capitals' shootout loss against Carolina.

Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux also lit the lamp to back a 25-save performance from Sergei Bobrovsky as Philadelphia set a new franchise record for road wins in one season with 25. The previous mark of 24 was first set in 2002-03. 

Alex Kovalev and Tyler Kennedy tallied for the Penguins, whose four-game win streak came to an end after surrendering the final four goals of the contest.

Marc-Andre Fleury was dented for all five goals on just 24 shots in the loss.
"That puck was bouncing everywhere out there today," said Fleury. "Those bounces were ending up in the net for them and it's tough cause we're fighting them for position."
Kennedy slid the puck between Bobrovsky's pads from the right wing at 9:21 of the second period to give the Pens a 2-1 edge, but Hartnell went up high from in close on a power play at 13:45 to knot the game again.

Giroux then let rip from between the circles and scored inside the left post to give Philly a 3-2 edge only 47 seconds later.

It was a 4-2 advantage for the visitors at the 5 1/2-minute mark of the third period, when Hartnell shot from the left point and the puck caromed off Leino in front and slid past Fleury.

Leino struck again at 8:38, when his shot at the right side of the crease popped over Fleury and over the goal line before being swept out.

Pittsburgh failed to convert on three straight power-play chances down the stretch, thanks in part to Bobrovsky's 14 saves in the final 20 minutes.

Old nemesis Kovalev used his patented wrister, from the right circle off a 2-on-1 rush, to put the Penguins on the board with 7:38 left in the first period. Bobrovsky seemed to be lulled to sleep as the wily veteran waited until the last second to fire his 16th goal of the season inside the far pipe.

The Flyers drew even just after a power play expired, when Braydon Coburn's shot from the right boards hit the post, caromed off Fleury's back and trickled in with 4:04 to go. The tally was later awarded to Carter, who appeared to get a piece of the puck with his stick while providing a screen.

Notes: The Flyers won the season series, 4-1-1, and took all three games in Pittsburgh...It marked the first time since 1983-84 (4-0-0) the club finished unbeaten and untied during all of its regular-season games in the Steel City...Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen suffered a lower-body injury in the second period and did not return...Pittsburgh fell to 0-18-1 this season when trailing after two periods.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Luukko speaks as Flyers increase ticket prices

Courtesy of the Philadelphia Daily News

Michael Strulson, a third-generation owner of a set of Flyers season tickets, never thought there would be a day that he would consider not renewing his center-ice seats at the Wells Fargo Center.

That was until Strulson, 39, received a surprising notice in the mail from the Flyers on Saturday.

That's the first time, Strulson said, that he found out the Flyers are instituting a price increase of more than 21 percent for six sections in the lower bowl as part of a wider "rescaling" that will see almost every ticket increase in price next season.

What's worse, he said, is that he had already paid his deposit for next season.

"It's a business, and I know that," Strulson, of Aston, Pa., said yesterday. "I think everyone understands that. But it's just unfortunate. We have a great fan experience. We have fun. They gave me no mention of an increase when I put my deposit down as an 'early bird.' "

Even Comcast-Spectacor president and chief operating officer Peter Luukko acknowledged that some of the increases, especially for fans in the lower bowl, may be "harsh."

"We're rescaling the house," Luukko told the Daily News. "Since the lockout [in 2004-05], we've increased ticket prices just 5 percent. And that's 5 percent as a total for the six seasons, not 5 percent each year.

"The salary cap in the NHL has increased more than 50 percent over the 6 years. We're a top 5 market in the league and we've had the 15th or 16th average ticket price."

According to Team Marketing Report, the Flyers had an average ticket price for this season of $60.89, which is seventh in the NHL.

Strulson spent $79 per game per seat this season for tickets with a face value of $96. Next season, those tickets will increase to $96 for season ticketholders, with a face value closer to $115.

Suddenly, Strulson's season-ticket cost for two seats rocketed from $6,900 to $8,360 - with little notice or explanation. Luukko contends that the timing and manner of notification are standard practices.

"The Flyers know that they have a loyal fanbase, but it's simple economics," Strulson said. "We're in a recession still. For a recreational expense, that's a number that's really hard to justify without hearing why."

The Flyers are one of many NHL teams with increasing ticket prices. In Pittsburgh, where the Penguins opened the new Consol Energy Center this season, fans saw a similar 20 percent spike in prices.

In New York, where $850 million is being spent on renovations for Madison Square Garden, 32 seats will increase 198 percent for next season. Prices for the next 11 percent of seats closest to the ice will be raised 50 percent and the remaining 11,789 seats will increase 10 percent or less.

"It's something that we thought long and hard about," Luukko said. "With the rescaling, some fans may have to move over a section or two to stay at their current price point, but they won't be priced out of the lower bowl."

That's partially true. Previously, every ticket in the lower bowl - regardless of section or row, with the exception of the first row against the glass and those in the Cadillac Grille - was just $79 for season ticketholders.

Next season, just two of the sections in the lower bowl will feature the same $79 price point. Those that are not increasing to $96 - or $193 for the first row or $102 for the Cadillac Grille - will bump to either $85 or $89.

That's still an 8.8 percent increase or 12.6 percent increase for most seats.

In addition, the Flyers are starting a new price point for each row in the upper deck. Each row will have a different price, ranging from $65 in the first row to $37 in Row 15.

"Yes, we increased prices, but we're allowing fans more flexibility," Luukko explained. "Rather than one price, we're changing things around, but we're not pricing anyone out of the building. They just may need to change a section or a row."

Luukko said the Flyers examined prices in the secondary market on websites such as StubHub and Razorgator to determine their pricing.

"For those that were increased 22 percent, those seats are in higher demand than anywhere else in the building," Luukko said. "People fill those seats no matter the game. We think the new price is reasonable compared to the marketplace."

Since Comcast-Spectacor owns both the Flyers and Sixers, Luukko said the Sixers will not be raising ticket prices for next season. Still, some wonder if the Flyers' record profits from last season, according to Forbes magazine - and increases for next season - help stomach money losses by the Sixers.

On the ice, the Flyers have been competitive. After last season's thrilling run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers have held down the top spot in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 4. Off the ice, Forbes said their franchise value increased from $273 million to $301 over the last calendar year.

So, why the hike?

"It's tough," Luukko said. "You can see the renovations that we've made to the arena. We're a team that goes after it every year. It's something that we need to do to keep up and be competitive."
That doesn't make it any easier for Strulson, a self-described "upper-middle class, hard-working fan," to swallow.

"If they're trying to make up for increasing just 5 percent over the last 5 years, I wish they would have just done it 5 percent each year and told us in advance," Strulson said. "That would've been much more palatable.
"I feel like I'm being taken for a ride. I love the team. But they're acting like a team that's won the last 12 Stanley Cups."

Philadelphia's Ennis back in action this weekend in Atlantic City

This Saturday night at Ballys in Atlantic City, Pound for Pound Promotions presents a action packed night of boxing that will feature the NABF Super Middleweight champion Farah Ennis taking on Alexander Johnson.

That fight plus the full undercard will be broadcast like all over the world on for just $9.99 by clicking:

The show will begin at 7:30 pm eastern time.

Ennis of Philadelphia has a record of 17-0 with eleven knockouts and is coming off his title winning effort when he stopped Victor Lares in seven rounds this past November 19th in a bout that was seen all over the world on

In his previous fight he scored a third round stoppage over Reggie Pena on August 28th in Atlantic City as he is quickly becoming a force in the loaded Super Middleweight division.

The twenty-eight year old has a very diverse style as he has won fights by displaying his terrific boxing ability while in other bouts he has shown awesome knockout power like the aforementioned bouts.

In those bouts, Ennis has stopped Emanuel Gonzalez (9-6) in three rounds, Frankie Santos (17-8-4) in two rounds, Steve Walker (24-24) in one round and Ennis stopped grizzled veteran Demetrius Davis (20-23-5) in three rounds on July 30th in Philadelphia.

The twenty-seven year old Ennis turned pro in February of 2006 by scoring a second round stoppage over Sylvester Golding in Philadelphia.

Johnson of Oxon Hill, Maryland is perfect as he sports a 10-0 mark with four wins coming via knockout.

Johnson has been a fixture on the Beltway Boxing circuit as he has spent his pro career winning fights in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

He has a couple of signature wins such as a four round unanimous decision over Zeferino Albino which was seen live all over the United States on ESPN 2 and in his last bout, Johnson scored a second round stoppage over Andre Espuett on November 6th.

In the co-feature, explosive knockout artist, Amir “Hardcore” Mansour will take on grizzled veteran Hector Ferreyro in a bout scheduled for eight rounds.

Mansour has a record of 12-0 with nine knockouts and has quickly re-established himself as one of most devastating punchers in the Heavyweight division.

Mansour won his fist nine bouts before taking almost nine years off.  Since he has returned he has scored three of the most vicious knockouts in recent memory.

On August 27th, he annihilated Samuel Brown in two rounds when he landed a shot that dumped Brown face first on the canvas.  After taking out Joseph Rabotte in three, Mansour knocked Alexis Mejias out cold in round two of their February 25th bout.

Ferreyro of has a record of 21-9-2 with twelve knockouts is the most experienced for that Mansour will have faced to this point it looks to be his sternest test.

The native of Laredo, Texas has shared the ring cagey vets such as Dominic Jenkins, he holds a win over undefeated Leo Nolan (26-0); Kendrick Relford; Cisse Salif ( W via U dec); He won the IBC Heavyweight title with a twelve round unanimous decision over Arron Lyons.

Ferreyro will be looking to get back in the win column after he lost a ten round split decision Homero Fonseca on November 6th

In a second eight round co-feature, Heavyweights Damian Wills and Arron Lyons will tussle in what could be an entertaining scrap.

Wills of Los Angeles has a record 29-2-1 with twenty two knockouts is once again on the cusp of a major opportunity.

Wills won his first twenty-one bouts which included wins over Yaqui Diaz (13-3) and Salif.

He stepped up to face fellow unbeaten Chris Arreola as part of the Floyd Mayweather – Carlos Bladomir undercard and engaged in a toe to toe war before being stopped in seven by the future world title challenger.
Two fights later, Wills dropped a ten round unanimous decision to yet another undefeated future title challenger in Kevin Johnson before embarking on his currant seven fight winning streak which includes his latest outing when he stopped former Super Middleweight title challenger Rubin Williams.

Lyons of Las Cruces, New Mexico has a record of 12-9-1 with nine knockouts, should not be taken lightly as he has sprung the upset in the past.

Lyons has wins over then undefeated Joey Abell (9-0); two wins over Gabe Brown (18-6-3) and his last bout when he scored a shocking fourth round stoppage over Lenroy Thomas on December 11th.
The rest of the card will feature some great fights and prospects.

6 Rounds – Light Heavyweights—Bobby Rooney (11-3-1, 6 KO’s) takes on Walter Foster (4-3-1, 4 KO’s)

6 Rounds – Super Featherweights—Victor Valenzuela (8-1, 1 KO) vs. Steven Johnson (6-2, 4 KO’s)

4 Rounds – Jr. Middleweights—Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna (1-0, 1 KO) vs. Bobby Bynum (0-2)

4 Rounds – Lightweights—Chris Green (4-2, 1 KO) vs. Jason Rorie (6-11-2, 3 KO’s)

4 Rounds—Jr. Middleweights--Steven Martinez (8-0, 7 KO’s) vs. TBA

The action begins at 7:30 pm

Scouting the NL East: Washington Nationals

By Michael Rushton

Philadelphia, PA - The future continues to look brighter for the Washington Nationals.

If only they can get this pesky 2011 season out of the way.

It seems as if the Nationals franchise has been building towards the future for the better part of a decade, even before it made the switch from Montreal to the nation's capital. But some once-in-a-lifetime prospects and some key free agent pickups finally look as if they have Washington on the verge of getting out of the National League East's basement.

Of course, this is the Nats so it hasn't been easy.

The franchise hasn't been to the postseason since 1981 and hasn't finished above .500 since the 2003 Montreal-based club went 83-79. While last year's club went just 69-93 to finish 28 games under the even mark, it did avoid a third straight 100-loss campaign.

Those poor finishes haven't come without reward as the Nationals grabbed pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the top pick of the 2009 draft, then selected Bryce Harper first overall in 2010 to bolster their offense. Add in the signing of former Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth to a long-term deal and Washington is putting together a solid core.

Now the Nats must wait for the core to fully ripen. The 18-year-old Harper isn't expected to have an impact on the 2011 club -- he will begin the season with Single-A Hagerstown -- and Strasburg had his debut cut short last year due to Tommy John surgery that has him looking towards 2012.

And while the Nationals added one of the top offensive free agents in Werth at the price of $126 million over seven years, the squad was unable to keep slugging first baseman Adam Dunn, who signed with the White Sox, while also striking out on a number of other free agents.

So instead of contending, 2011 will serve once again as a transition year that will get a handful of younger players some experience; including the likes of closer Drew Storen, shortstop Ian Desmond and catcher Wilson Ramos.

Washington will also have stability in the front office after general manager Mike Rizzo was given a five-year extension last October that also added executive vice president of baseball operations to his title.

New on the field will be third-base coach Bo Porter, who replaces Pat Listach after he joined the Cubs to be their bench coach.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Nationals, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2010 FINISH (69-93) - Fifth Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Jayson Werth (RF), Adam LaRoche (1B), Rick Ankiel (CF), Todd Coffey (RHP), Tom Gorzelanny (LHP), Henry Rodriguez (RHP), Jerry Hairston Jr. (INF/OF), Chad Gaudin (RHP), Oliver Perez (LHP)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Adam Dunn (1B), Josh Willingham (OF), Willie Harris (OF), Miguel Batista (RHP), Adam Kennedy (2B), Wil Nieves (C), Scott Olsen (LHP), Joel Peralta (RHP), Tyler Walker (RHP), Justin Maxwell (OF)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Ian Desmond (SS), Rick Ankiel (CF), Jayson Werth (RF), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Adam LaRoche (1B), Mike Morse (LF), Danny Espinosa (2B), Ivan Rodriguez (C)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Livan Hernandez (RHP), Jason Marquis (RHP), John Lannan (LHP), Jordan Zimmermann (RHP), Tom Gorzelanny (LHP)


MANAGER: Jim Riggleman


The Nationals will have a new right side of the infield after losing Dunn in free agency and declining an option on second baseman Adam Kennedy.

Washington had both Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena in its sights to replace Dunn, but couldn't land either free agent and eventually settled on journeyman Adam LaRoche, who joins the fifth team of his career.

The left-handed hitter will bat fifth or sixth in Washington's lineup based on the pitching matchup and should help make up for some of Dunn's missing power after hitting .261 with 25 homers and a career-best 100 RBI in 151 games with the Diamondbacks last year.

Though it is unknown what second baseman Danny Espinosa will bring to the plate after getting a 28-game taste of the majors last year, the 23-year-old is considered one of Washington's top prospects and projected to be an excellent defender. That is good news after Washington committed 127 errors a season ago.

Desmond was at the head of that committee, leading the NL with 34 miscues. However, Washington likes the leader that Desmond is turning into and he was solid at the plate with a .269 average, 10 homers and 65 RBI while finishing second on the club with 17 steals.

Rounding out the diamond for the Nats is former All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. An excellent defender at third, Zimmerman battled a hamstring injury early last year but went on to hit .307 and surpassed the 20-homer mark for the fourth time in his career. At 26, he remains a key part of the Washington's long-term plans.

Ivan Rodriguez does not, but he will begin the season as the starting catcher until Ramos is ready to take over full time. Rodriguez is in the second season of a two-year deal signed last offseason and hit .266 with four homers and 49 RBI in 111 games. A 14-time All-Star, he remains a good player to have in the clubhouse to mentor young players.


While Nationals fans wait for the eventual ascension of Harper, they will also have Werth, a former All-Star, for the foreseeable future. The 31-year-old was arguably the Phillies' most consistent batter a season ago and has averaged 29 homers and 84 RBI over the past three seasons while playing solid defense. He hit .296 last season and scored a career-best 106 runs.

Werth can also shift over and play center, but the Nationals have plenty of options there as well. Nyjer Morgan, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina are all battling for the position, with Ankiel emerging as the front-runner towards the end of camp due to his power and defense.

Ankiel could still end up sharing time with Morgan, who brings 50-steal potential but at times struggles to get on base and keep his emotions in check.

The trade of Josh Willingham opened up left field and Mike Morse appears to have edged out Bernadina and Ankiel for that job as well. The 6-foot-5 right- handed slugger, who can also backup first base, compiled 15 homers and 41 RBI in a career-high 98 games a season ago, hitting a solid .289. He could also find himself in a platoon situation should he struggle.


Strasburg figured to spearhead this rotation in 2011, but will instead turn his attention to coming back from his surgery after going 5-3 with a 2.91 earned run average in 12 games. He also struck out 92 in 68 innings.

With the loss of Strasburg and the inability to land free agents Javier Vazquez, Brandon Webb and Carl Pavano, the Nationals will go with a veteran in Livan Hernandez at the top of the rotation after the 36-year-old posted a solid 3.66 ERA in a team-leading 33 starts. He also topped 200 innings for the 10th time in his 15 seasons, but went just 10-12 due to poor run support.

Fellow right-hander Jason Marquis follows after a lost 2010 season. Marquis joined the Nats with a two-year contract, but made just three starts and allowed 19 earned runs in just 8 1/3 innings before being shut down for three months due to right elbow injury. The 32-year-old didn't pick up his first victory until Aug. 30 and went 2-9 with a 6.60 ERA in 13 starts.

Former Opening Day starter John Lannan ensues and after being victimized by poor run support in his previous two seasons, the lefty struggled to a career- high 4.65 ERA in 25 starts, going 8-8 in 143 1/3 innings.

Washington is also excited about its fourth starter, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. The 24-year-old and former second-round pick returned from Tommy John surgery on Aug. 26 and went 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA in seven starts, holding opposing clubs to an earned run or less in four of those outings.

Unable to add a pitcher through free agency, the Nats shipped three minor league players to the Cubs for southpaw Tom Gorzelanny, who rounds out the rotation after going 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 29 games (23 starts) a season ago. Washington would love for the 28-year-old to find the stuff he had with the Pirates in 2007, when he won 14 games with a 3.88 ERA.

Righty Chien-Ming Wang could also crack the rotation at some point. Signed prior to last year, he hasn't pitched since July 4, 2009 due to foot and shoulder issues. He isn't expected to be ready for Opening Day this year, but should return at some point.

Marquis, Wang and Hernandez are all free agents at season's end.

The Nationals also signed former Mets lefty Oliver Perez to a minor league deal in late March, but he is expected to start the season in the minors. He could offer some insurance down the road if he can solve his issues on the mound that led to his release from New York.


Nine picks after the Nationals drafted Strasburg, they selected Storen to be their future closer. That time appears now after Washington shipped Matt Capps to Minnesota prior to last season's trade deadline. The 23-year-old righty got a little taste of ninth-inning action after the Capps trade, posting five saves while ending the season with a 3.58 ERA in 54 games.

Washington added righty Todd Coffey (2-4, 4.76 ERA with Milwaukee) this offseason and he could also finish out games along with left-hander Sean Burnett (1-7, 2.14 ERA) and right-hander Tyler Clippard, who actually finished second on Washington last season with 11 wins.

Regardless of who is closing, that core four figures to lock down innings seven through nine.

Riggleman will also choose from Collin Balester and Chad Gaudin for his long relief role.


Jerry Hairston figures to be the main guy off the bench after hitting .244 with 10 homers and 50 RBI in 119 games with the Padres last year. Not only can he platoon in center, but the 34-year-old can play multiple infield positions as well.

Ramos is also assured a bench spot as he figures to be starting by season's end. Washington got the prospect from Minnesota in the Capps trade and his presence also figures to push the finally-healthy Jesus Flores out of the picture.

While it is possible that Morgan or Bernadina could both begin the season on the bench, it is likely that at least one of them will be sent to the minors if Ankiel holds on to the center field spot.

Alberto Gonzalez will also come off the bench and back up in the infield and powerful pinch-hit specialist Matt Stairs is also an option.


Give Rizzo credit as he was able to go out and land one of the top free agents available this winter. However, Werth's bat would look a lot better in a lineup that also included Dunn. Werth immediately becomes one of the leaders of a young core and teams with Zimmerman and Rodriguez as mentors for the Nats' youth. Riggleman has plenty of options on offense, but he will be counting on a pitching staff that has both injury (Marquis, Zimmermann) and age (Hernandez) concerns. The manager will also have plenty of safety nets in a well-put-together bullpen should Storen struggle as the closer, but lets be honest here; anything other than a last-place finish will be a big step forward for this franchise and roster.

Scouting the NL East: New York Mets

By Michael Rushton

Philadelphia, PA - Fans of the New York Mets decorate themselves from head to toe in blue and orange, but the color green has taken over in Flushing.

As in the color of money.

In the words of Staten Island-born super rap group the Wu-Tang Clan, cash rules everything around the Mets right now. From ownership's involvement in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme to the club's highest-paid player slated to be out until at least the All-Star break, New York's offseason didn't resemble one of a team coming off a disappointing finish. That has the Mets looking more like the broke versions of Randolph and Mortimer Duke than a club that was a consistent challenger during the later part of last decade.

Of course, if the Mets can get some bounce-back years from a handful of players, it will prove they didn't need to be big spenders this winter. However, not having starting pitcher Johan Santana until late June because of left shoulder surgery at the earliest won't help things one bit.

New York's finances were under the microscope all offseason, including the impact of the Madoff incident that now includes allegations that owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz actually made $300 million in the scheme. Still, New York's ownership group, Sterling Equities, is looking to sell a small stake in the club, up to 25 percent, and the Mets didn't add a big name in free agency.

Part of that was because the franchise came out of its 79-83 finish owing $111.5 million to eight players in 2011, including a combined $18 million to busts Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, a pair of players who were given their release from the club in mid-March just three days apart.

Castillo's exit opened up the competition at second base, while Perez's departure ended a span that began with a three-year, $36 million deal prior to 2009 and ended with him going 0-5 in 17 games (7 starts) in 2010 with a 6.80 ERA and 42 walks in 46 1/3 innings.

Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes are also set to hit the open market this winter, but New York will take big seasons out of the duo if it will help the club get back into the postseason for the first time since 2006. Reyes, Beltran, Jason Bay and new-comer Chris Young are among those hoping to return to form after injury-impacted 2010 seasons.

While the Mets couldn't shed the salary of disappointing players, somebody had to pay the price for last year's finish, so both manager Jerry Manuel and much-analyzed general manager Omar Minaya are out. Terry Collins, in his first manager role since 1999 with the Angels, replaces Manuel after serving as a minor league field coordinator for New York last year, while former Oakland general manager Sandy Alderson takes over for Minaya.

New York also added former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi as a special assistant.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Mets, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2010 FINISH (79-83) - Fourth Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Scott Hairston (OF), Chris Young (RHP), Willie Harris (OF), D.J. Carrasco (RHP), Taylor Buchholz (RHP), Ronny Paulino (C), Chris Capuano (LHP), Brad Emaus (2B)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Pedro Feliciano (LHP), Sean Green (RHP), John Maine (RHP), Henry Blanco (C), Chris Carter (OF), Elmer Dessens (RHP), Kelvim Escobar (RHP), Hisanori Takahashi (LHP), Fernando Tatis (INF/OF), Joaquin Arias (INF), Luis Castillo (2B), Oliver Perez (LHP)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jose Reyes (SS), Angel Pagan (RF), David Wright (3B), Carlos Beltran (CF), Jason Bay (LF), Ike Davis (1B), Josh Thole (C), Brad Emaus (2B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Mike Pelfrey (RHP), Jon Niese (LHP), R.A. Dickey (RHP), Chris Young (RHP), Chris Capuano (LHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Francisco Rodriguez (RHP)

MANAGER: Terry Collins


New York hit just a collective .249 and plated 656 runs a season ago, finishing near the bottom in both categories in the National League. A healthy Reyes, though, should improve both numbers in 2011.

After missing all but 36 games in 2009, Reyes' season got off to a late start last year due to a hyperactive thyroid and he also dealt with both back and oblique injuries. In all, the shortstop played in 133 games and batted .282 with 83 runs scored and 30 stolen bases. That was a little less than the 100- run, 50-plus steal average that the Mets count on from their leadoff man.

Reyes' partner on the left side of the infield, David Wright, did hold his own though, hitting .283 with team bests in homers (29) and runs batted in (103). Wright finally found his power at the new Citi Field, hitting 12 homers at home after managing just five in the ballpark's debut season in '09.

New York also got some solid contributions from a pair of rookies in first baseman Ike Davis and catcher Josh Thole.

The Mets opened the season using Mike Jacobs and Fernando Tatis at first base, but Davis became a fixture by mid-April and went on to hit .264 with 19 homers and 71 RBI in 147 games. Thole, meanwhile, worked his way into the lineup in July and ended up catching 73 games while hitting .277. The job is his full time to start 2011.

Castillo's release ends a tenure with the Mets that began during the 2007 season and will perhaps best be remembered for his dropped popup that cost New York a game versus the Yankees during the 2009 campaign. His departure also opens the door for either Rule 5 selection Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner or Collins' favorite Luis Hernandez to be the starting second baseman on Opening Day.


Though the three starters are set, that doesn't mean the Mets' outfield isn't without questions as both Beltran and Bay are hoping to recover from serious injuries last year.

Beltran did not make his debut in 2010 until after the All-Star break due to right knee surgery last offseason and has already battled knee tendinitis this spring. He wasn't very productive when he was on the field either, batting just .255 with seven homers and 27 RBI in 64 games and could even begin this season on the disabled list.

Not only will Beltran eventually be looking to shake off some rust at the plate, but he will also be playing a new position. The Mets opted to slide Beltran, a four-time Gold Glove winner at center, over to right field, with Angel Pagan taking over his old position after he led the club with a .290 average and 37 steals in 151 games. Pagan spent most of last season at center in place of the injured Beltran and the Mets are hoping the move for Beltran will take some pressure off his knee.

The crown jewel of last year's free agent haul, Bay's Flushing debut wasn't stellar. In the first season of a four-year contract, Bay missed New York's final 63 games because of a concussion suffered in late July and hit just .259 with six homers and 47 RBI. That came after an excellent 2009 with the Red Sox in which the righty set personal bests with 36 homers and 119 RBI. The Mets will be looking for similar production this year.


Replacing a pitcher of Santana's caliber isn't easy, something the Mets learned this winter. Knowing that their ace won't be back until the All-Star break after having a procedure to repair the anterior capsule of his left shoulder, New York was only able to land the likes of Young and Chris Capuano in free agency and both of those starters come with injury risks of their own.

The right-handed Young has made just 36 starts in the past three seasons, battling arm issues in the last two. He was limited to just four starts last season with the Padres, going 2-0 with a 0.90 earned run average in 20 innings, but should benefit from Citi Field's spacious grounds.

Capuano, meanwhile, has had two Tommy John surgeries on his left pitching elbow and has made only five starts since the start of 2008. Still, the two figure to round out New York's starting five behind Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey.

Dickey is the most interesting of those names given that the knuckleballer earned a multi-year contract for the first time in his career after going 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) last year. The 36-year-old righty was arguably the Mets' most consistent pitcher in 2010.

The right-handed Pelfrey is the default ace, winning 15 games for the first time in his career after lowering his ERA from 5.03 in 2009 to 3.66 last year. The 27-year-old had 10 wins by June 25, but went just 5-7 in his final 18 starts with a 4.57 ERA.

Niese, a 24-year-old lefty, got his first extended taste of the majors and went 9-10 with a 4.20 ERA in 30 starts.


Closer Francisco Rodriguez is hoping for a fresh start in 2011 after a strange conclusion to last season.

On the field, Rodriguez was solid. He saved 25 games with a 2.20 ERA in 53 appearances, but his season was highlighted by an incident with his girlfriend's father at Citi Field on Aug. 11 that resulted in attempted assault charges. The righty pled guilty to avoid jail time and is looking to repair his relationship with the Mets.

New York suspended K-Rod for two games after the incident and his season eventually ended early due to a torn ligament in his right thumb. The Mets attempted to convert his contract into a non-guaranteed one due to the incident, but the two sides settled their grievance case in mid-October.

Rodriguez is owed $11.5 million this season and his 2012 option, worth $17.5 million, becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games this season.

New York's bullpen will have some fresh faces after the club lost both Hisanori Takahashi and Pedro Feliciano, who broke his own club record last year with 92 appearances.

Right-handers Manny Acosta (2.95 ERA in 41 games) and Bobby Parnell (2.83 ERA in 41 games) both figure to get the bulk of the late-inning work, while righties D.J. Carrasco and Taylor Buchholz, as well as 37-year-old southpaw Tim Byrdak, were added to the mix.

The left-handed Pat Misch was a candidate to start, but he could fill the long relief role, while righty Jason Isringhausen is looking to latch onto the club after being out of baseball for most of the past two seasons.


The Mets added a veteran catcher to back up Thole when they signed Ronny Paulino, but he will miss the first eight contests of the season to finish up a 50-game ban issued last year while with the Marlins for violating the league's drug policy.

Murphy could be in line for more playing time this year at first and second base after missing all of 2010 with a knee injury, especially if he wins the starting job at second. However, he may be more useful to the Mets off the bench.

Scott Hairston and Willie Harris were both signed to add insurance to the outfield, meaning prospect Fernando Martinez is likely to start the year in the minors after playing in just seven games last season due to injury.


Injuries have derailed the Mets in the past two seasons and 2011 already has a hint of macabre to it with the loss of Santana. If healthy, New York's offense certainly has some potency and Reyes could be in line for a monster year given his pending free agency. However, Beltran's knee is a concern and Bay is aiming to come back from a serious injury of his own. There is also valid concern about the rotation given some of the injury history and the bullpen has questions too, especially if the Mets don't want Rodriguez's 2012 option to become guaranteed. New York is one of the harder clubs to figure out before the season gets going, but it won't be surprising if the franchise is swimming in mediocrity again before deciding to start over next season.

Scouting the NL East: Florida Marlins

By Michael Rushton

Philadelphia, PA - With the Florida Marlins approaching the twilight of their tenure at Sun Life Stadium, the franchise is in the process of establishing the identity it will carry over to a new name and ballpark in 2012.

One season before the big move, some up-and-coming players have already begun to shape that future character.

The Marlins went into last season looking to build off an 87-win year and get into the playoffs for the first time since their second World Series title in 2003. A slow start quickly altered those plans, with manager Fredi Gonzalez getting fired after a 34-36 jump-off to pave the way for Edwin Rodriguez to become the first Puerto Rican-born manager in MLB history.

Rodriguez, though, did more than just serve as a face for baseball's Latin community. Florida went 46-46 after Rodriguez took over on June 23, earning the manager a one-year extension, and saw several fresh faces accumulate some valuable experience at the pro level.

Despite the .500 mark after the manager switch, the Marlins still finished 17 games out of first place in the National League East and 11 games behind the wild-card winning Braves, who will be managed by Gonzalez this season.

Florida's 2010 season was ultimately defined by the youthful trinity of Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton. All three were having an impact in the lineup by season's end, with Sanchez finishing fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Rodriguez will aim to keep all three on the progressive track while hoping to keep Hanley Ramirez's head in the game. The All-Star shortstop made headlines in May after having a blowup with Gonzalez after the former manager benched him for a lack of hustle and saw some of his offensive numbers dip from his 2009 season in which Ramirez captured the NL batting title.

Florida must also find a way to replace Dan Uggla's bat in the lineup after dealing the power-hitting second baseman to Atlanta when the two sides could not agree on a contract extension.

The exit of Uggla, who is set to be spelled by former Atlanta All-Star utilityman Omar Infante, could have a positive affect on the Marlins' defense, which committed 123 errors last year. The hiring of Perry Hill as infield and first-base coach should also help. Hill was with the club from 2002-06 and is thought of as one of the top infield instructors in the game.

On the other side of things, though the small-market Marlins weren't able to assemble a pitching staff on the level of the NL East-favorite Phillies, they do feel they can go toe-to-toe with a lot of rotations after adding Javier Vazquez to a mix that already includes All-Star Josh Johnson as well as Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Marlins, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2010 FINISH (80-82) - Third Place (NL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Omar Infante (2B), Javier Vazquez (RHP), Randy Choate (LHP), John Buck (C), Mike Dunn (LHP), Edward Mujica (RHP), Ryan Webb (RHP), Greg Dobbs (INF/OF)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Dan Uggla (2B), Cameron Maybin (CF), Will Ohman (LHP), Andrew Miller (LHP), Jorge Sosa (RHP), Ronny Paulino (C), Chad Tracy (3B), Jose Veras (RHP)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Chris Coghlan (CF), Omar Infante (2B), Hanley Ramirez (SS), Mike Stanton (RF), Gaby Sanchez (1B), Logan Morrison (LF), John Buck (C), Donnie Murphy/Emilio Bonifacio (3B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Josh Johnson (RHP), Ricky Nolasco (RHP), Anibal Sanchez (RHP), Javier Vazquez (RHP), Chris Volstad (RHP)


MANAGER: Edwin Rodriguez


The Marlins will have a new double-play combination this season as Infante joins Ramirez up the middle. Infante made the NL All-Star team last year as a utility specialist and he won't be able to replace Uggla's usual 30 homers on his own, but he does offer solid defense at multiple positions and batted .321 in 134 games last year with Atlanta.

Florida swapped Uggla for Infante and relief pitcher Mike Dunn after Uggla reportedly turned down a four-year, $48 million extension, but hopes to replace some of his power with Sanchez at first again this season. Sanchez played in 151 games last year and hit .273 with 19 homers and 85 RBI.

Also looking to chip in will be 2010 All-Star catcher John Buck, who signed a three-year deal with the Fish after setting career highs with 20 homers, 66 RBI and a .281 average in 118 games with the Blue Jays. He can also gun down his fair share of would-be base stealers and is an upgrade from the tandem of John Baker and Ronny Paulino used last season.

Of course, a rebound year from Ramirez will also help. The 27-year-old led the NL with a .342 average in 2009, but dipped to .300 in 142 games a season ago while finishing with 21 homers, 76 RBI and 32 steals.

Needing a long-term fixture at third base following last season's trade of Jorge Cantu to the Texas Rangers, the Marlins had hoped 21-year-old former first-round pick Matt Dominguez would win the job in camp, but the solid defender struggled at the plate.

Instead, Donnie Murphy or Emilio Bonifacio will slide into the third-base role, though Murphy may have the inside track until Dominguez returns due to Bonifacio's ability to fill in at multiple positions. Murphy is looking to come back from a right wrist injury suffered in early September.

Florida could also move Infante to third, but that is an idea Rodriguez is not currently entertaining.


No player on the Marlins needs to forget 2010 more than Coghlan, who won the NL Rookie of the Year honor the previous season before enduring an injury- plagued sophomore season. He was limited to just 91 games due to a left knee injury suffered during a postgame celebration and batted just .268, a far cry from his .321 average in '09.

Not only will Coghlan try to fix things at the plate as the expected leadoff hitter, but the lefty will also make the switch from left field to center following the offseason trade of the speedy Cameron Maybin to San Diego. Maybin struggled to stick in the big leagues with Florida after being acquired as part of the package received from Detroit in 2007 for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

Coghlan will have youth around him in the form of Stanton and Morrison.

Stanton will start in right field after leading all rookies with 22 homers last year, while Morrison set a club rookie record by reaching base safely in 42 straight games once he finally joined the club. Morrison will try to find his power at the big-league level as he managed just two homers in 62 games.


Florida is hoping a return to the NL is just what Vazquez needs after he struggled to a 10-10 mark and 5.32 earned run average in 31 games (26 starts) with the Yankees in 2010.

The right-hander did go 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 32 starts with the Braves in '09 and went 2-1 with a 2.99 ERA in four interleague starts a season ago. The Puerto-Rican born hurler signed a one-year deal worth $7 million and should fit right in with the Miami faithful.

Vazquez will be part of an expected all-righty rotation that is led by Johnson, who topped the NL with a 2.30 ERA while going 11-6 in 28 starts. Johnson's ERA was as low as 1.61 as of July 22, but he pitched hurt in the second half and didn't start after Sept. 4 due to a back injury and sore right shoulder.

Ricky Nolasco led the staff with 14 victories in 26 starts last season and also did not pitch in September due to injury, but still earned a three-year, $26.5 million extension this offseason.

Anibal Sanchez led the team with 32 starts last year, going 13-12 with a solid 3.55 ERA, while Chris Volstad (12-9, 4.58 ERA) rounds out the staff.


The door to the bullpen might as well revolved on its own given how many arms the Marlins used last season. It comes as no surprise then that both of Florida's big trades this offseason brought back relief help.

The relief group will feature a new pair of lefties in Dunn and Randy Choate, who signed a two-year contract after appearing in a career-high 85 games a season ago with the Rays. The 35-year-old went 4-3 in that span with a 4.23 ERA.

The Maybin trade to the Padres brought back a pair of right-handers in Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, who both had ERAs under 3.70 while combining to appear in 113 games. Both are also in their mid-twenties.

Despite some late season struggles Leo Nunez is slated to be the closer after locking down 30 saves a season ago. The right-hander did yield 62 hits and 21 walks in 65 innings and pitched to a 9.31 ERA in 10 games in August before giving way to Clay Hensley to finish out games.

Hensley finished the season with a 2.16 ERA in 68 games and saved seven games in September.


The Marlins already had their own version of Infante in Bonifacio, who played at six different spots last year, including all three outfield positions as well as third, short and second base. He could end up starting at third or even center if Coghlan isn't ready for Opening Day due to a shoulder injury.

Despite experience at third, both Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs appear to be headed for reserve roles, while veteran outfielder Dewayne Wise may also capture a spot on the bench.

Paulino got hit with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug late last season and is now with the Mets, while Baker isn't expected to be ready for Opening Day following September Tommy John surgery, so Brett Hayes will begin the season as Buck's backup.


Forgive the Marlins if they are already looking forward to 2012, when they will be renamed the Miami Marlins and play inside of a retractable-roof stadium and hopefully in front of some larger-sized crowds. Florida could do wonders for that last part by challenging for a playoff spot this year. A transition to youth factored into last season's step back in the win column, but Florida's guppies played well and the Marlins can still run in the middle of the pack if the unit avoids the sophomore slump. A restocked bullpen and solid rotation should take some pressure off of the offense, but replacing Uggla's bat is no small task. Rodriguez has plenty of options to work with, but his managerial skills will be tested in a competitive NL East. Still, a challenge at the wild card spot isn't out of the question.