Archive | August, 2013

Flashbacks of 2012? Birds Must Cut Down on Turnovers in 2013

27 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

If Running back Bryce Brown can cut down on fumbles, he has the potential to be an outstanding back .  Photo by Webster Riddick.

If Running back Bryce Brown can cut down on fumbles, he has the potential to be an outstanding back . Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Now that we know that Michael Vick is going to be the Eagles starting quarterback until he either gets hurt or plays badly, he and the Birds starting offense have a some things to work on as they get ready for their regular-season opener against the Washington Redskins.

One of those things, a return of the wave of turnovers that seems to become a hallmark of the last two years for the Eagles, were a part of last Saturday’s preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the 31-24 win over the Jaguars, the first team turned the ball over three times.

While Vick didn’t completely stink up the joint­—he completed 15-of-23 passes for 184 with a touchdown and an interception—the interception had fans and local media pundits in a tizzy.

“We all have to be in the moment and cognizant about it,” Vick said. “We can’t turn the ball over. It’s better that it happened now than in Week One.”

Under pressure from the Jacksonville defense, Vick, apparently trying to throw the ball away, threw it off of his back foot and threw it to a Jacksonville defender instead.

“We’ve just got to make sure that he understands what to do and we talked about that,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “But you’ve got to put him in those situations and that’s what this preseason is.… I thought he did a real good job of keeping plays alive at time, but there are some other times you’ve got to cut your losses, get to the line and get ready for the next play.”

One of the Eagles most promising running backs is Bryce Brown, who showed flashes of brilliance last season, but also had a bad habit of fumbling the ball.

In the Jacksonville game, Brown took the ball from the Jaguar 26 and was three yards from a touchdown until Jacksonville defensive back Dwight Lowery forced the ball from his grasp. The ball ended up in the end zone for a touchback with an opportunity to score going by the wayside.

After reviewing the film, Kelly said Brown’s fumble was just a good hit by Jacksonville defender.  He said he likes what he sees from Brown as a running back.

“Tough, hard, physical runner,” Kelly said. “He’s got outstanding speed for a big guy. Really is decisive when he makes decisions on where he wants to go.”

Kelly’s run-oriented option offense is tailor made for a running back with Brown’s skills. He recognizes his issues with ball security and is working on them, he said.

“I spend a lot of time on working in traffic,” said Brown, who gained 564 yards on 115 carries with three fumbles lost. “I put my emphasis on is really keeping the ball tight in traffic.  I’m trying to put emphasis on being in between the tackles and things like that.”

During Monday’s practice, Brown had a scare when he twisted his left ankle, but wound up getting back on the field later after getting it taped. He is expected to play in the Birds final preseason game against the New York Jets.

Off the DL: Halladay Has a Solid Outing in Phillies Win over Arizona

25 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

Roy Halladay pitched well since going on the disabled list in May and earned his first win since April. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Roy Halladay pitched well since going on the disabled list in May and earned his first win since April. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—If you needed any indication that Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay was back to his old self after spending most of the season the disabled list, all you needed to do was see the standing ovation he got from fans at Citizen’s Bank Park after he left the field in the sixth inning.

Halladay (3-4, 7.81 ERA) didn’t perform badly for a guy who got the call to pitch for the Phillies late Saturday night.  He was supposed to be pitching in a rehab assignment for the Phillies Double-A affiliate in Reading.

“I was half asleep. I was more than happy to come back,” said Halladay, who had shoulder surgery. “Hotel phone was going off, my cell phone was going off. Everything was ringing. I didn’t know what was going on. It took me a second to figure out what was going.”

Facing major league hitting for the first time since May, Halladay allowed just two runs on four hits in six innings of work with two strikeouts and two walks.  He said the velocity on his fastball, which was mostly in the high 80s, but got up to about 90-91 miles per hour, will eventually come, but he wants his other pitches such as his sinker or cutter to be effective as well.

“I’m going to continue to throw fast balls, but I need to show guys early in the count that I’m throw something soft and put as much in their minds as I can early,” Halladay said. “If I go out there and show them that I’m going to throw all fast balls, they’re going to be on it. I’m going to have mix and match and change speeds as much as possible.”

The Phillies offense Sunday helped Halladay by giving him a whole lot of run support and some spectacular plays in the field as the Phils came away with a 9-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Things started a little shaky for Halladay, who gave up two runs in the first two innings on an RBI groundout and a sacrifice fly.  But after the second inning, Halladay settled down and didn’t allow a run for the remainder of the game.

The offense came through in a big way. They scored four runs in the first inning. Two of those came on an RBI double by third baseman Cody Asche. Left fielder Darin Ruf had a base loaded single that put the Phillies on the board.

John Mayberry Jr. added to the Phillies lead by blasting a two-run homer to left in the fourth inning. The Phillies added three more runs in the sixth to close out the scoring.

“We scored early and then in the middle and then late,” said interim manager Ryne Sandberg. “In our wins on the homestand here the guys are really coming through with clutch hits, situational hits and big hits with guys on base. I feel  like it’s getting contagious throughout the lineup now.”

Phillies newcomer Roger Bernadina had a couple spectacular plays in the field including robbing Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Davidson of a two-run homer  with a leaping catch at the wall. He also had a diving catch in the seventh inning that took away another hit from Arizona catcher Tuffy Gosewich.

“For a second I thought the ball was over my head,” Bernadina said. “I kept going when I crossed the warning track, I jumped and made a catch out of it.”

Added Halladay: “That was probably a game-changing play.”

For good measure, Bernadina was 1-for-4 with a double and two runs batted in.

Phillies Get Third Straight Walk-Off Win Over Arizona

24 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Chase Utley's walk-off base-on-balls gave teh Phillies a 4-3 win over Arizona. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Chase Utley’s walk-off base-on-balls gave teh Phillies a 4-3 win over Arizona. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—For the third straight game, the Phillies gave the fans at Citizen’s Bank Park something to smile about with their 4-3 walk-off win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Chase Utley’s walk-off base-on-balls with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning against Diamondbacks reliever Eury De La Rosa gave the Phillies their third straight walk-off win.

“Anytime you have a walk-off, it creates some excitement with the guys getting out there on the field …three straight walk-offs, you’re lucky if you get that in a month,” said Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg. “Right now, it’s carrying over into the next day. It feels good and we’ll continue to build on it.”

In the ninth inning, the Phillies got a leadoff single by pinch hitter Cody Asche. A single off the hit and run by shortstop Jimmy Rollins drove Asche to third. After an intentional walk to third baseman Michael Young that loaded the bases, Kevin Frandsen struck out.

But Utley did a good job of working the count against De La Rosa, who threw an inside breaking pitch that wasn’t even close to the strike zone. The walk scored Asche from third.

“Winning is winning, I’m just glad we’re able to battle and stay with it throughout the whole game,” said starting pitcher Cole Hamels. “It’s a good feeling just to have something going the right way for as long as we had it this week.”

Hamels had another quality start, going seven innings and allowing three runs on six hits with four strikeouts and just one walk. He allowed those runs in the fourth inning.

“Hamels threw the ball well for his seven innings,” Sandberg said. “He ran into some trouble in the fourth with a hit batsman on an 0-2 pitch and then the twilight ball Domonic didn’t see.”

That fourth inning started when Hamels hit Diamondbacks right fielder Adam Eaton with the pitch. A double to left by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt that fell between shortstop John McDonald and leftfielder Domonic Brown, who apparently lost the ball in the lights, moved Eaton to third.

Both runners scored on an RBI double by left fielder Martin Prado. An RBI single by third baseman Matt Davidson drove home Prado. Arizona was held scoreless for rest of the game.

The Phillies bullpen, which has struggled throughout the season, kept the team in the game and did not allow a run. The combination of B.J.Rosenberg and Jonathnan Papelbon allowed just one hit over the last two innings.

“They put up zeroes, seventh through ninth,” Sandberg said. “The games have been somewhat tight and it allows the offense to do something. Also the way that they’re putting zeroes up, the defense is coming off the field. It’s all about manufacturing a  run or two and puts it on the offense.”

The Phillies started the scoring in the bottom of the second with a solo home run from Darin Ruf. It was his 10th of the season and his eighth since Aug. 1.

“(Ruf) continues to swing the bat with some pop,” Sandberg said.

But Arizona bounced back to take the lead with a three-run fourth. The Phillies would come back in their half of the sixth inning with a bases loaded RBI double by catcher Carlos Ruiz that scored first baseman Kevin Frandsen and Brown.

The Phillies tied the game in the sixth inning on an RBI bases-loaded double by Carlos Ruiz, who is hitting .373 in 19 games since Aug. 1.

Sandberg’s Right: Howard Should Shut it Down and Get Ready for 2014

24 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies interim manager Ryan Howard should forget about 2013 and back next year. Photo By Webster Riddick.

Phillies interim manager Ryan Howard should forget about 2013 and come back healthy in 2014. Photo By Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies at the point of their season where they are allowing their best minor league prospects to get some major league experience, this part of the season is also a time for some injured veterans to just shut it down and comeback next year.

One of the players in question is Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who has been out since early July with a torn meniscus in his left knee.  That was also suggestion from Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg.  On Thursday, Sandberg told reporters that Howard, who has been battling injuries for the last two years,  that it would better for him to take off the rest of 2013 to be completely healed.

“At this point, counterproductive. We’re talking about his health, getting healthy and getting strong, and having the offseason ahead of him. You don’t want any fallbacks or anything. I think until he gets into baseball shape, which is not going to happen between now and the middle of September or the end of September … we’ll have him get in baseball shape.”

And Sandberg is not at all wrong about that.  If he does come back in the middle of September, Howard is not going to be 100 percent and it’s going to take some time to find his groove anyway.  The Phillies have been long out of the playoff chase since losing 21-of-25 coming out of the All-Star Break.

What would be the point? As Sandberg said Howard needs to be back in better baseball shape. We have not seen the Howard who averaged 132 runs batted in and hit at least 30 home runs between 2006 and 2011 since he hurt his Achilles Tendon making the last out of the 2011 National League Division Series.

In the last two years, we’ve seen merely a shell of the old Howard. Playing on his sore left knee this season, Howard hit 11 home runs and drove in 43 runs in 80 games and had a .266 batting average. Last season in 71 games, Howard batted  .219 with 14 home runs and 56 runs batted in coming his Achilles injury. He missed the last week of the 2012 season with a broken toe.

Meanwhile, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said while he understands the idea of shutting Howard down for the remainder of the year, it might be beneficial for him to play in the last couple of weeks of the season.

“At the same time, I think it’s important for him to get in some baseball activities just for him mentally to see how he feels, how he does,” Amaro said. “”We’ve got to get him in the best possible shape.”

True, if you’re talking 2014.

Howard just started fielding ground balls Friday during his rehabilitation stint down in Clearwater, Fla.  Amaro said Howard has also lost about 15 to 20 pounds.  That’s a step in the right direction for him to get in shape for next year.

As Sandberg suggested Howard should keep working out to get back into baseball shape. If anything, I would hope that Howard would use the off-season to work on changing his approach to the plate and work on driving the balls to the opposite field while figuring out a way to be consistent against left-handed pitching.

For the last couple of years, Howard has had some type of injury or nagging injury that turned into a big injury, it would be nice to see the big guy operating at 100 percent because I think he still has a lot of home runs and runs batted in left in him.

If a healthy Howard comes back next year with the group of young guys, the team’s rebuilding process won’t be quite as traumatic as it might be in 2014.

Phillies Players Blame Themselves for Manuel’s Dismissal, Ready to Work with Sandberg

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

Phillies interim manager Ryne Sandberg wants the team to know the last 41 games of the season are important.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

End of an Era: Manuel Firing Means It’s Rebuilding Time for Phillies

17 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

 Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro looks to rebuild Phillies after firing Charlie Manuel.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Phillies 15 games below .500 and their awful performance after the All-Star break, you should now have all the evidence you need to understand that team’s run of success in recent years has to come to an end.

The Phillies fired Charlie Manuel Friday after compiling four wins in 23 games after the All-Star Break and replaced him with Ryne Sandberg, who is in a 42-game tryout as the Phils interim manager.

But Manuel’s dismissal wasn’t necessarily about his abilities as a manager. It was emblematic of an aging team that is in decline and is about as good as they’re going to get this season, which explains the Phillies current 53-68 record.

From 2007 to 2011, the Phillies won five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League pennants. Like it does with every good team, age and injuries over the last two seasons have finally caught up with them.

At the end of the day, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to have to do an overhaul of a team that needs to move forward rather than hanging on to players who are nothing more than aging shells of their former selves.

If you’re going to bring in a new manager, I think you’re also going to have to bring in new, younger players who are going to buy into the new manager’s philosophy and at some point you have to start growing your younger talent.

That means you have to say good-bye to popular fan-favorites. I thought it was a mistake for Amaro to sign second baseman baseman Chase Utley to a two-year contract extension.  Don’t get it twisted, Utley has been a warrior of a player for the Phillies and a key contributor during the team’s playoff run.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

Charlie Manuel led the Phillies to five straight division titles, a World Series title and two National League Pennants.

But with his degenerative knees and his age, Utley’s days as a regular second baseman are numbered. I personally think they should have traded him for some prospects or some younger player.

As much as I admire and respect shortstop Jimmy Rollins, I think it’s time for him to move forward on him as well. After this season, he will have one year left on his contract. After next year or maybe even before that, it’s thank you for your service and the good things that you’ve done for the team.

While he is still one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League and maybe in baseball, at the plate he hasn’t hit above .280 since winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2007.

Rollins hasn’t been the most disciplined hitter, which is surprising for a veteran ball player of his stature. He doesn’t work the count and often swings at bad pitches.

A couple weeks ago, the team placed the 34-year-old Rollins on waivers since he has a no-trade clause in his contract, but there were no takers.  Unless he has a huge resurgence next year, I don’t see the team signing him to an extension. Eventually, they’re going to have to look to their farm system to find a replacement.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are going to have see if 36-year-old Roy Halladay, whose contract is up at the end of this year, has anything left following his shoulder surgery.  He is currently on a rehab assignment with Phillies minor league affiliate in Clearwater, Fla.

In his first start, Halladay allowed three runs and struck out four. The velocity on his fastball was somewhere between 85 and 87-miles per hour. That’s not good enough for him to come back to the major league level.

The bottom-line now is that the Phillies are officially in rebuilding mode and for them to get better they will inevitably have to say adios to guys who helped build and shape the Phillies last run of success.

Just as Rollins, Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became the foundation of 2007 to 2011, especially after the team unloaded guys like Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu, a new crop of kids will come in and hopefully achieve what those guys did.

 

Kelly Should Name Vick the Eagles Starting Quarterback Now

16 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Michael Vick is playing well enough to be the Eagles starting. Photo by Webster Riddick

Michael Vick is playing well enough to be the Eagles starting. Photo by Webster Riddick

PHILADELPHIA—After watching weeks of 11-on-11 drills, the practice scrimmages against the New England Patriots and two preseason games, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly should just go ahead and name Michael Vick as his starting quarterback.

Although I thought Nick Foles did a really good job of running the Birds read-option, no-huddle offense in these first two preseason games, Vick has been that much better and it seems to be more suited to his skills.

“When he gets back there in that shotgun, you don’t know what he’s doing,” said running back LeSean McCoy. “His fakes can hold a guy enough where a guy like me can get up in the hole because the defensive end and the linebackers are pausing for a second not knowing what’s going on. They’re times when he drops back and Mike can throw the ball. The offense fits him.”

After the Eagles 14-9 win over the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, Kelly made it clear that he has yet to make that decision just yet. For him, it’s a hard choice because both quarterbacks are playing well.

“I think we have two quarterbacks that can play in the NFL, so we’ll continue to look at it. But you feel better about the situation,” Kelly said. “We’re not going to make any rash decisions. You can put your pens down if you think we’re naming a starting quarterback in this room right now.”

In the two pre-season games against the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, Vick has been nearly flawless in the passing game.  He has completed 13-of-15 passes, 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

In Thursday night’s game against Carolina, Vick completed his first nine passes and moved the Eagles offense on a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by McCoy.

During his time under center, Vick did a good job of reading the defense and getting the ball out quickly. If it wasn’t downfield, he did a good job of hitting the check down man underneath. On the touchdown drive, Vick’s check down man was McCoy who turned those plays into decent gains.

When you look at it in both practice and in the two pre-season games, Vick just looks like he’s a new man in this offense. I’ve not seen him this comfortable since 2010.

“I’m having fun playing football, I fell in love with the game again and very grateful,” Vick said. “You got to play this game with intense passion and purpose. I thank Coach Kelly for what he’s done for me. That’s the just giving me that confidence that I felt like I was losing at some point in my career. You just got to keep working hard to get the results you want.”

On that same second-quarter touchdown drive, Vick showed folks that he can still use his legs to buy time and to get first downs using his legs when there’s nothing there.

For example, on first and 10 from the Carolina 46, Vick was flushed out of the pocket by the Panthers pass-rush.

Nick Foles ran the offense  well and had a rushing touchdown.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Nick Foles ran the offense well and had a rushing touchdown. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Moving to his left, Vick escaped and then hit a wide-open Riley Cooper at the Carolina 24.

Two plays later, Vick was flushed out of the pocket by the Carolina pass rush. Moving to his left, Vick found an opening and ran for an Eagles first down at the Panthers seven. A six-yard run by Vick put the ball at the one-yard to setup McCoy’s one-yard run.

Foles, who actually started the game, by no means disgraced himself. He played well, completing 6-of-8 passes for 53 yards with one interception and a rushing touchdown.  He did a good job of maneuvering the Eagles no-huddle offense.

While he’s not as fast as Vick, Foles showed he can use his legs a little bit, scoring on a seven-yard run to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead. Though I suspect that’s something Kelly doesn’t want him to do.

If Vick wasn’t in this camp, Foles would easily win this job. If Vick goes down with an injury at some this season, I don’t think the offense would miss a beat with Foles behind center.

At this point, I just think Vick, with all his skills and his apparent mastery of Kelly’s offense, gives the Eagles the best chance to win.

“I think in this offense, (Vick) is looking good and he’s loving it,” McCoy said.