Archive | September, 2012

Still Phightin’: Phillies Win their Seventh Straight, Move To Within Three of St. Louis in NL Wildcard Race

13 Sep

Jimmy Rollins came up big in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Miami Marlins. It was his two-run homer that sealed the Phillies seventh straight win. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The one sure way to get back in a pennant race is to beat the bad teams along the way and when you look at this streak of wins for the Phillies, they’re doing exactly they’re supposed to do.

Thanks to pitching of Cliff Lee and the hitting of Jimmy Rollins, the Phils won their seventh straight game in a 3-1 win over the Miami Marlins in front of 42,178 enthusiastic fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

The Phillies (72-71) not only finished unbeaten during this current homestand, they moved to one game above .500. More importantly, they moved to within three games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wildcard spot with just 19 games left in the season.

“It’s September, it’s just an exciting feeling where we’re finally getting things to where want to go and we’re right in the thick of things,” said Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard. “We want to take it one day at a time and try to get one victory at a time.”

It was the clutch hitting of Rollins that put the Phillies over the top in this game. With the score tied at 1-1 one on and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, hit a

two-run homer to the seats in right field to give the Phils they would not relinquish.

“He’s always been a good big-game player,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “Jimmy can hurt you, he knows how to hit. He’s got a good stroke and you get guys who want to throw fastballs to him and he’s got enough patience to get good balls to hit.”

Rollins, who leads the team in home runs, has been on a tear lately. He has hit safely in 19 of his last 22 games with a .307 batting average and a .351 on base percentage. Rollins was 2-for-4 in Wednesday’s game against the Marlins.

“Last two or three years he’s been that way,” Manuel said. “He’s hit streaks. He’s had times where he’s had trouble hitting and then he gets hot and he starts hitting good. He’s been a streak hitter.”

Meanwhile, Lee had another outstanding start. He allowed just one unearned run on four hits with six strikeouts in seven innings of work.   He said with the way the Phillies have been playing in September, the team is playing like it’s in a pennant race. So far, this month, the Phillies are 9-2.

“You play 162 games and a lot of times it comes down to those last three or four games,” Lee said. “Hopefully, we can put ourselves in position to play some meaningful games those last few. To get there, we just got to continue to play the way we have each day, put it behind us when it’s over and move on to the next one. If we continue to do that, we gotta shot to play some meaningful games.”

The Phillies will be on the road for the next seven games against the last place Houston Astros (Central Division) and the New York Mets, the fourth-place team in the National League East.  Both teams, with nothing to play for, are looking to spoilers against contending teams like the Phillies.

“Every team is dangerous,” Howard said. “We just have to continue to go in and just trying to do what we’re and playing teams harder no matter who they are and what their record is and keep within ourselves and trying to win games.”

Vick Expects to Play Better Against Baltimore

12 Sep

The Eagles can ill afford turnovers against a tough Baltimore Ravens defense.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens strolling into South Philly on Sunday, Eagles fans are hoping that Michael Vick and the offense don’t duplicate the first 44-minutes and 32- seconds of their season-opener against the Cleveland Brown.

If the Eagles commit the turnovers, penalties and have a lack of balance on offense against a tough Baltimore squad, the day will with a crescendo of resounding boos at Lincoln Financial Field because the Birds are not going to walk off that field with a win.

Even though the Eagles won last week on the final drive of the game, Vick has probably been more scrutinized this week by fans and media than both President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign.  Throwing four interceptions in the last game you played makes you a topic of conversation.

But Vick said he definitely wants to put the last week behind him and wants to come out on Sunday with a better performance than he had this past week.

“I’ve got to go into the next week, I can’t dwell on the last game because I don’t plan on having that type of ball game again,” Vick said with a large crowd of reporters surrounding his locker.  “Regardless of what the situation dictates, I think you have to go out there and play your game. Don’t get frustrated and don’t get too high or too low when things aren’t going your way. Just keep pounding, keep plugging and good things are going to happen in the end.”

Oddly enough, Vick said the only motivation he has for Sunday’s game is going over the game field and seeing the game film.

“Nobody really has to motivate me, I motivate myself, I watched the film, I’m the one who lived it,” Vick said. “This is about playing the game that I love. Every game is not going to be easy.”

Just about every aspect of Vick’s game has been criticized this week from his inability to read defenses, not finding secondary receivers, not playing enough snaps during the preseason, and for holding onto the ball too long. Head coach Andy Reid defended Vick from such criticism and likened Sunday’s game versus to a basketball player getting hot late in the game after struggling.

“He finished strong and so you gotta take that and roll with it,” Reid said. “He finished the way a great player finishes.  You see this all the time in basketball. Great shooters when they have an off-day they keep shooting and when it comes down to the end, the great ones sink the winning shot.

“Michael, that’s what he did, he kept firing. He didn’t seem hesitant at the end of that game of that game where everything was on the line, he continued to fire. He’s a great player, he didn’t have a lot of reps in preseason, but he’ll continue to get better.”

Vick admitted that he has to work on his decision-making and stop trying to players when it’s not there. In Sunday’s game against Cleveland, Vick inexplicably threw passes into double and triple coverage.

“You can’t force throws, you can’t try to stick a ball in a tight spot when a guy’s not really open and try to make something happen,” Vick said. “You’ve got to give it time, you gotta work your way downfield and take what the defense gives you and keep it simple.”

While folks might think that the Ravens are salivating at the opportunity to force Vick into more turnovers, Lewis said he doesn’t think Vick will toss four interceptions against his defense.

“He’s going to get past that real quick because that’s one thing professionals do, especially a guy like that who has the ability to bounce back and make those plays,” Lewis said.”The same mistakes he made last week, we’re not looking for him to make those same mistakes this week.

“ We understand who we’re playing and we understand what Michael Vick is going to give us when we come to Philly. We’re not going to let what happen in Cleveland last week fool us into what’s going on when we come to Philly.”

Phils Continue Late Season Surge as Kendrick Shuts Down Marlins

11 Sep

Kendrick is 7-2 since the All-Star Break. In seven innings, he allowed just one run on two hits.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

If the Phillies somehow get into the postseason and they make into the National League Division Series, the starting rotation will be tough to handle when you consider the Phils have Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

And the way Kyle Kendrick has been pitching for the Phillies, there are not too many teams that want to face him either. Thanks to a career-high eight strikeouts for the 28-year-old righthander, the Phillies continued their late-season surge with a 3-1 victory over the last place Miami Marlins at Citizen’s Bank Park.

The Phillies are currently on a five-game winning streak including nine out of their last 11 games. With 21 games left, the Phillies are 5 ½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second National League Wildcard spot. The Phillies (70-71) are just one game below .500.

“I think somewhere along the line, you do play good baseball within a season and I think that if you stay with it, you’ll hit some streaks,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “I think baseball is streaks. If you got a streak coming and haven’t one during the season and you’ve got one coming I think sooner or later it can be good. If you hit one late in the season, it can be real rewarding.”

Manuel said the Phillies are starting to get some of the breaks that they weren’t getting earlier in the season to win those close games.

“We’ve definitely proved over the years that we can play in close games,” Manuel said. “If we play clean games, we usually keep our cool, especially our veteran players to put us in good position. That’s what I see happening.”

For the first five innings, Kendrick flirted with a no-hitter until Marlins catcher Rob Brantly singled to left center to open the sixth inning. When the count was 2-2, Kendrick appeared had to have the out, but it was called a ball.

Kendrick (9-10) would ultimately leave the game after seven innings and allowed just two hits, three walks and one run. He threw 95 pitches and was in command of his pitches throughout his time in the game. His improved changeupkept the Miami hitters

off-balance.

“Tonight (the changeup) was pretty good,” Kendrick said. “(catcher Erik) Kratz called a good game and was able to keep them off balance. I used (changeup) effectively as an out pitch. It was a good night for us. I was able to stay aggressive.”

After struggling during the first part of the season, Kendrick is now 7-2 since the All-Star and has won five out of his last six games for the Phillies. Since Aug. 8, Kendrick is 5-1 with a 1.49 earned average. He said getting the opportunity to be in the starting rotation since the trade of Joe Blanton has made him a better pitcher.

“It definitely helps that you get into a routine, you know what you’re doing every day that you come to the ballpark,” Kendrick said. “It was my spot to take control of it and go out there. Let them see that I’m strong there and let them make the decision.”

Meanwhile, Antonio Bastardo, who got the save,  Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus allowed just two hits in the final two innings of the game.

The Phillies offense didn’t score runs in bunches, but it was just enough to back up Kendrick’s solid pitching performance. Domonic Brown hit a two-run homer to right the Phillies half of the fifth and Michael Martinez scored on a wild pitch after reaching on a double to center and going to third on a fielder’s choice

“I just got a pitch up to drive and that was it,” Brown said of his two-run homer. “I’m just learning how to hit a little bit, just getting more comfortable. The more comfortable I get, the more power numbers you guys will start seeing. Other than that, I’m just going out there and playing baseball and that’s it.”

 

Despite Win, Eagles Offense has To Correct Mistakes

10 Sep

Michael Vick threw four interceptions in the 17-16 win over Cleveland. He threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Clay Harbor with 1:18 left.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

There are several ways to look at the performance of Michael Vick and the Eagles offense in Sunday’s 17-16 win over the Cleveland Browns in which they committed five turnovers (four interceptions by Vick) and you would probably be right.

“We didn’t play as disciplined offensively as we needed to all the way around,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid during his weekly day after the game press conference. “I know Michael took the blame, but it’s not a one-man show. That’s not what it is. Everybody had a piece of this pie, starting with me and the coaches. You can’t play like that-whether it was from the play-calling, the execution to the penalties.”

One way is that the rust from Vick having just 12 snaps in the preseason really showed.  He made some really bad reads. He threw into triple coverage on a couple of those picks including the pick-six he threw to Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson midway through the fourth quarter.

“I had plenty of throws that I would like to have back. I was sort of rusty out there, but I just fought through it and that’s all I could do. When we scored that last touchdown it was a sigh of relief,” Vick said.

Another way to look is that along with the turnovers, the Eagles committed too many penalties on offense. For the game, the Eagles committed 12 penalties for 110 yards—seven of them were on the offensive side of the ball for a total of 65 yards-five of them were holding penalties.

You can also look at the fact that the Eagles were incredibly predictable on offense and seem to have a forgotten that they have an All-Pro running back in their backfield in LeSean McCoy, who oddly enough still gained 110 yards on 20 carries. Vick threw 56 passes while completing 29 for 317 yards with the aforementioned interceptions and two touchdowns.  He was sacked twice and was hit 16 times because the line struggled at times trying to protect him. .

“You know what? We probably could have done a little bit more of that early.  We had fumbles and that early and we got away from it, but as it’s all said and done we probably could have run a little bit more early,” Reid said after the game.

On the Eagles last two drives including the game-winning 16-play, 91-yard, McCoy carried the ball eight times and the offense seemed to move smoothly. But Reid said it was because the Birds didn’t commit any penalties or make any mistakes on that final drive.

“When you eliminate the problems, the mistakes, that’s why that drive looked a little better than the other ones,” Reid said. “It’s a potent offense, if you eliminate the mistakes…You got to make sure that you eliminate the turnovers, eliminate the penalties and then good things happen.”

In spite of getting knocked around and throwing those interceptions, Vick played with a lot of heart and determination on the final drive of the game to help the Eagles pull out the victory.  There was concern from his teammates who felt that Vick lost some confidence after tossing the interception return for a touchdown to Jackson.

“He’s got a lot of courage man, honestly,” said Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. as you could see he fought back, he kept you know making plays. Regardless of him being down on himself, everybody’s like regardless of anything,, we will still ride with you.. It was just a good situation to see him come back and make a game-winning throw.”

Next up for the Eagles is Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and the Baltimore Ravens. If the Eagles offense has the kind of game against the Ravens they had this week against a Cleveland squad that’s not very good, they will be in for a long, long, long day that might involve the  chasing a purple and white jersey wearing No. 20 or No. 52 as they waltz into the end zone on a pick-6.

Phillies are Quietly Making a Late-Season Charge for the Playoffs

10 Sep

John Mayberry Jr. is helping the Phillies make a late season push for the postseason. The Phillies have won eight of their last 10 and are two games below .500.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Don’t look now but the Phillies actually have a shot at one of the two wildcard berths despite all the reports of their imminent death and demise.  The Phils are six games behind the St. Louis Cardinals with 22 games left.

Since the All-Star break, the Phillies are 32-21. They are 24-14 since the July 31st trade deadline when the team traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants (more on that in a moment).   Phils manager Charlie Manuel said he never thought his team was out of it.

“I’ve always thought that, it’s just a matter of us winning games and good things happen for us and other teams playing each other and beating up each other,” Manuel said after the Phillies 7-4 win over the Colorado Rockies Sunday night.

Granted, they would have to climb over three teams and get above the .500 mark to even come close. The good thing is that the Phillies schedule down the stretch will include some awful teams along with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.

“If you’re winning, you’re going to gain some ground on somebody,” Manuel said. “Those wildcards definitely make a difference when you think about it. It’s very important for us to get over .500. We get a couple of games over .500 and you’ll see that our chances will get better because some of those teams will filter back down to that mark.”

But even if the Phillies don’t get to the playoff promised land, the most important thing for them will be playing well down the stretch.  In a season where injuries basically destroyed the first half of the season, finishing above .500 and making a charge down the stretch would be more than a moral victory.

“I’m definitely encouraged about that because that means that we’re staying with them and we still want to play and a lot of teams pack it in, but at the same time, I know a lot of our guys and they’re not going to pack it in because that’s who they are,” Manuel said  “Just keep winning and see how many we can win and keep going.”

Here’s something to think about. Back in 2006 when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu and the late Corey Lidle to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said after that trade that it would be “a stretch that we’re going to be there in 2007.”   The Phillies made a late charge and almost made the playoffs and in 2007 they won the first of their five straight NL East titles.

Since the trade of Pence and Victorino, the Phillies are making that charge after many fans and media people thought the Phillies were writing off the 2012 season.

The Phillies sweep of a double-header from the Colorado Rockies moves them to just two games under .500 and gave them a three-game sweep of the weekend series. They have won eight of their last 10 games.

“I think we started to get some breaks that we didn’t get in the first 80 or 90 games,” said Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.  “Our pitching has kept us in ball games and I think anytime our pitching can keep us in ball games, we have a chance. Just having a chance to win in September goes a long way.”

The next three series on the Phillies schedule are the last-place Florida Marlins and the Houston Astros, the last place team in the National League Central and the New York Mets who are next to last in the NL East.

If anything, the Phillies should at the very least move above the .500 mark against teams that quite frankly aren’t very good.  If somehow they inch closer in the wildcard race, the last two series of the season against the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals might actually mean something.

“If you stay around .500 you always have a chance, it’s a little bit later than I said around August,” said outfielder Juan Pierre. “Some teams if they lose, you can find yourself right back in it, but still it’s a long way to go and we’re still a long way out of it. But if you continue to play good baseball, you never know you give yourself a chance that’s for sure.”

Maryland puts Temple Away Late in Mistake-Filled Contest

8 Sep

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and CM Report

The Maryland Terrapins came into Saturday’s game against the Temple Owls as a 10-point underdog.

However, odds-makers don’t play football and by halftime, the game was a 23-point blowout in favor of Maryland as a listless Temple squad was being drowned by a stingy Terps defense and in a sea of its own penalties and turnovers.

But in the second half, the rejuvenated Owls rallied back to cut the lead to within two late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the Terrapins got a late touchdown to put an end to the Temple comeback and came away with a stunning 36-27 victory over the Owls Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

“It was a really a tale of two-halves,” said Maryland head coach Randy Edsall. “The first half we went out and capitalized on big plays and turnovers and then it reversed itself and they made some big plays. To have our guys come on the road against a quality, which Temple is, to fight through adversity to put that last drive together, it really showed me about the heart, the soul and character and belief that these kids have in one another.”

On the Temple side of the field, head coach Steve Addazzio  and his team will look at this game and ask themselves what the heck  happened, especially in the first half when Maryland jumped out to a 26-3 lead at halftime. Temple quarterback Chris Croyer said the team lacked intensity in the first half.

“We were playing very sloppy and we didn’t come out as fired up as we should have been. We came out very slow,” Croyer said.

The Owls simply couldn’t get out of the way of themselves in the first half and at times during the second half. For the game, they committed five turnovers, three in the first half.  They had a couple of bad center snaps over the head of quarterback Chris Croyer’s head led to a safety and slowed down another drive. There were some dropped  passes by Owls receivers and a blocked field goal.

“We didn’t get a rhythm going for a lot of reasons, most of which are three turnovers (in the first half),” Addazio said. “It’s hard you turn the ball over, you’re off the field. .. You don’t get a rhythm that way. Then you’re just calling plays, you’ve established nothing.”

Temple committed five penalties for 60 yards in the first half.

Maryland’s defense held the Temple running game to just 52 yards. Matt Brown gained just 31 yards on 10 carries after gaining 146 in last week’s win over Villanova.  Inexplicably, Temple passed the ball just three times in the first half. But found some rhythm in the second half, Croyer completed 7-of-18 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

After the first quarter ended with the game tied  at 3-3,  Maryland seized control of the game in the second quarter and took a 10-3 lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Perry Hills to senior tight end Matt Furstenburg.

Later in the second period,  Maryland upped the margin 17-3 on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Hills to Marcus Leak.  The four-play, 62-yard drive was helped by a 15-yard penalty personal foul penalty by Temple.

On the Owls next possession, Sean Boyle’s center snap in the shotgun sailed over Croyer’s head and the Owls quarterback recovered the ball in his own endzone for a safety.

Seven plays after getting the ball on a free kick, the Terps got an 11-yard touchdown run by Hills to give the Terrapins a seemingly insurmountable lead at the half. The last scoring drive of the half was aided by a roughing the passer penalty by the Owls.

“I don’t what it was on defense, a couple of dumb penalties, personal fouls and missed opportunities today,” said Temple linebacker Nate Smith.

In the second half, things seemed to be going Temple’s way when the Owls recovered a fumble on Maryland’s first play of the second half.  It took just four plays and 35 yards for Kenny Harper’s one yard run to cut the lead to 26-10.

But the Terps refused to fold and marched 67 yards in 12 plays for a 26-yard field goal that gave Maryland a 29-10 lead. The big play on that drive came on a third and 17 play from the Maryland 18 when Hills hit Marcus Leak for a pass that was good for a 39-yard gain.

On its next possession, Temple got a 62-yard touchdown pass from Croyer to C.J. Hammond to cut the lead 29-17.  When the Owls got the ball back they moved from their 40 to the Temple 23, but another bad snap by Boyle pushed the ball back to the 47. They managed to move back to field goal range and settle for a field goal.

The Owls had another opportunity for points after recovering a Maryland fumble at the Terps 12.  But Temple wound up with nothing after Maryland’s A.J  Francis blocked would what have been a chip shot field goal by Brian McManus.

Temple got the ball back one play late when Maryland’s Wes Brown fumbled at the Terps 49. Three plays later, Croyer hit Jalen Fitzpatrick for a 35-yard touchdown pass and that’s as close as Temple would come.

Maryland marched 75 yards in 11 plays to the seven-yard touchdown by running Justus Pickett that sealed the game for the Terrapins.

Super Bowl or Bust for the Eagles in 2012

8 Sep

Can the Eagles Protect Michael Vick or can Vick protect himself ? That’s the big issue confronting Eagles fans. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report

After struggling through last season’s mediocre 8-8 record, the Philadelphia Eagles have nowhere to go but up or else.

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear in both the offseason and in his recent state of the team address that anything less than the playoffs, heads are surely going to roll including that of head coach Andy Reid.

“Well 8-8 itself isn’t good enough. None of us are shooting for 8-8. Nobody in this building is shooting for 8-8 so I’m all in on that,” Reid said.

The Eagles have had the full offseason and training camp to come together as a unit. But will all that translate into team capable of getting to the postseason and possibly going to the Super Bowl.?

The one worry that seems to stick in the crawl of Eagles fans is the health of quarterback Michael Vick. The concerns are justifiable because injuries including bruised ribs that limited the amount of snaps he took during the preseason.

But Reid insists that Vick and the offense will be ready roll in Sunday’s season-opener in Cleveland against the Browns and that he’s not worried about Vick not being in sync with the Eagles offense.

“He has enough experience where I expect him to go in and perform well. I think we got a good base game plan in today,” Reid said. “I expect him to go out and play and play well.”

Vick said he has been feeling much better since hurting his ribs in last month’s preseason game against the New England Patriots. If anything, the time off may have been more beneficial to him because it allowed to get rest and recover.

“I feel good going into this game. I feel like I’m 100 percent, and I don’t really have any nagging injuries. I think I’m fully recovered. The last two weeks have really helped me get there. I’m just ready to go,” Vick said.

Vick will certainly have his share of his weapons starting with running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The offensive line will come into the season with one new face in 6-foot-9 inch, 330-pound left tackle King Dunlap who is starting in place of injured Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters.

“I’ve got trust in [T] King [Dunlap] and he’s been here a while. I know him,” Reid said. “He’s played well in the preseason here, and the opportunities that he had to play before, I thought, were quality starts for him and opportunities for him, when he came in when either [T] Jason [Peters] went down or one of the other people went down. I’ve got confidence in him.”

            With the exception of Dunlap, the Eagles starters have played together long enough to know that their main job without question is to protect their injury-prone quarterback.  Center Jason Kelce said the team is not making the protection of Vick an individual cause celeb, it’s something that goes without saying.

“(Vick) is our guy and our job is to protect him and we’re paid money to protect him,” Kelce said. “We’re always rallying around Mike. To say that we’re individualizing Mike because he had a rough preseason, I don’t think so. We’re just ready to go with Mike as our starting quarterback.”

With last season and the offseason OTAs and training camp behind, the Eagles defense is looking to avoid falling into early hole as it did last year. Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said the defense has a better feel for defensive coordinator Juan Castillo’s Wide-Nine defensive scheme and for each other.

“We’re a lot more comfortable and not with just the scheme, it’s with the players, it’s just relationships with everything,” Jenkins said. “We’re a lot more settled in and we’re approaching as a team now and this how we got to play.”

The glaring weakness that most football observers point to in the Eagles defenses is both safety positions with strong safety Nate Allen and free safety Kurt Coleman. But Allen said he’s not buying into the hype that they are somehow the weak link in the Birds defense.

“We hear about it and it’s in the back of our minds, but we can’t really worry about that with all that’s being said on the outside with the media and with the fans,” Allen said. “We just focus on what’s going on here and doing what we have to do to take care of each other.”