NLCS Preview

Ready for some more of this?

The Philadelphia Phillies prepare to face the San Francisco Giants in an NLCS that, while it may be short on rivalry, is certainly not at all lacking in interesting matchups. The first and most obvious of these, is the battle of what most people would say are the two best starting pitching rotations in the majors.

The Phillies will go with (in order of appearance) Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton. The Giants counter with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner. On the surface, this seems like a pretty even fight. The Giants’ starters ERA for the season was roughly .3 better than the Phillies’ starters ERA. Obviously, the Phillies have a much better starting rotation now than they did in June. Blanton was pretty terrible in the first half, and Roy Oswalt was pitching for the Houston Astros. So based on the numbers, you’d think they were pretty much dead even.

However, if we delve a little deeper you see that the Phillies play in one of the best hitter’s parks for their 81 home games, while the Giants play in one of the best pitcher’s parks for their home games. If you switched parks, the Phillies would easily dominate the numbers put up by the Giants starters. This is nowhere more clearly stated than by simply looking at the Giants third starter for this series, Matt Cain. He is generally accepted to be a very good pitcher, and his career ERA of 3.45 certainly supports that. For comparison, Roy Halladay (who most think is the best pitcher in baseball) has a 3.32 career ERA, and Cole Hamels has a career mark of 3.53. Despite the gaudy ERA numbers posted by Cain over his career, he actually has a losing record of 57-62 (48% wins). Halladay is 169-86 (66% wins), and Hamels is 60-45 (57% wins). Cain’s numbers are clearly helped by his own park, where, despite his fantastic numbers, he doesn’t even regularly outpitch the opposing pitchers. Any pitcher pitching in San Francisco for half of his games will have hugely inflated numbers. So, taking the park factor into account, it is starting to look more and more like a mismatch.

One final thing I will look at in terms of starting pitching is the ace factor. As you know, the Phillies now have 3 aces in Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, while the Giants “only” have one in Lincecum. However, to me there are aces, and then there are postseason aces – pitchers who have the ability to dominate in October against the best lineups in baseball. Many an ace turns into just a good pitcher under the bright lights of October. CC Sabathia has been hit around by our very own Phillies. He generally pitches well in the playoffs, and keeps his team in the game, but he usually gives up 2, 3, or even 4 runs during his playoff starts. In game one vs. Minnesota in the ALDS, he got hit around pretty hard.

There are plenty of other examples. If you look back to the Yankees rotation in the early 2000s, they had as many as 4 aces in Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells. However, in the playoffs, they came up short for many years under these guys because, while they were very good, they weren’t otherworldly like some of the pitchers they were going up against (Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson just to name 3).

The difference is that an ace in the regular season will almost always win if he goes 7 innings and gives up 3 runs, but against the pitching (and cold weather) in the playoffs, giving up 3 runs will usually lose the game. A true playoff ace will just slam the door shut on the opposition, leaving them to feel that they never had a chance.

There aren’t many postseason aces out there right now. Certainly Cliff Lee is one of them, and Cole Hamels is another. When those guys take the ball, they are almost a lock to go at least 8 innings while giving up no more than 1 run. I would have liked to see Hamels in game 2 just because I have more faith in him to win a possible must-win game (if Lincecum wins game 1 – which is certainly possible), but it is nice to even have the ability to argue who you would rather go with, Hamels or Oswalt. That’s a luxury 29 other teams would love to have.

Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, while each have only 1 postseason start underneath their belts, certainly both of them appear to fit into the category of postseason aces. Usually the team with most postseason aces will win in a postseason series. I give the Phillies the edge there also, 2-1.

All in all, I think the Phillies have a sizable edge in the strength of their starting rotation vs. the strength of the Giants starting rotation, but there are other things to consider before we can crown the Phillies as NL champs for the third consecutive season. This brings us to the lineups.

Now, since I used the parks to compare starting pitching, I also have to use it to balance out the numbers between their lineup and our lineup. The road numbers for both teams are actually fairly even, so based on that, one might conclude that the offenses are pretty close. However, the Phillies spent almost the entire year without being healthy, and this certainly hurt our production. The Giants stayed relatively healthy for their part. The Phillies didn’t do as well offensively in years past even despite their injuries, so this is closer than it would have been last year. Still, with a former all star at 7 of the 8 position players (Carlos Ruiz is the only Phillies regular to never make an all star appearance, but was probably our most consistent offensive player all year), it isn’t a reach to say that the Phillies have a pretty sizable edge in their lineup. I am not going to spend too much time on this point, because even the most blindly loyal Giants fan would concede this to us.

I am also not going to spend really any time comparing coaching staffs. Managers make their money by keeping their players motivated during the long grind of a 162 game season. At this point, it is mainly the players who win and lose games, unless the manager is terrible. Both Bruce Bochy of the giants, and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies are good managers, and I don’t think either team gets an edge in the coaching matchups.

The Phillies have been off since Sunday, while the Giants finished the Braves off on Monday. The NLCS doesn’t start until Saturday, so you will probably hear some talk about rest vs. rust. That shouldn’t be a factor at all for the Phillies. They have dealt with long layoffs in their past two playoff runs. They were off for almost a week before the World Series in 2008, while the Rays played a 7 game series against the Boston Red Sox and only had 2 off days in between series. Of course, we all know what happened there, the Phillies steamrolled them en route to the city’s first major sports championship since 1983. The Phillies have been there, done that, and being rusty will not be a factor for them in the least. If the layoffs affect either team negatively, it will be the Giants, who haven’t reached the NLCS since 2002. This leads us to the final point, the experience factor.

The Phillies have won their division for 4 consecutive years, and are now making their third straight NLCS appearance, and trying to go to their third straight World Series. The Giants do have a couple of players with some playoff experience in veterans such as Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand, among others (those names seem vaguely familiar for some strange reason). What they do not have, however, is the experience of playing together as a team in these big moments, of coming through when the pressure is the highest. Of course, the Phillies do have that, and then some. They know exactly what it will take to win this series, and that fact will only help them in their quest to become the first NL team since the 1940s the win 3 consecutive NL pennants.

Sure the Giants beat the Atlanta Braves in the first round, but in two of their 3 victories in that series, they scored the winning run via a blown call by an umpire. Their third victory was given to them the same way the Reds gave us game 2 – with terrible defense. Atlanta was down to their third string 3rd baseman, and it showed. Injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado made it necessary (though some would argue that anyone else should have taken the field, myself included) to continue to throw Brooks Conrad (AKA The Butcher) out to second base, which cost them the series. They also lost their closer, which lead to the game that they lost on the error. Despite being totally depleted, the Braves still were a couple of blown calls away from winning that series. If San Francisco plays the way they did in their series vs. the Braves, the Phillies will make quick work of them. Despite the Giant strong starting rotation, the Braves were right there with them, the same Braves team that could barely beat our own backups when they needed victories just to make the playoffs, and we had already clinched everything. No disrespect to the Braves, who had a fine season, but the injuries really caught up with them late in the season, and the fact that the Giants were lucky to beat them truly makes me wonder if they should be playing on the same field as the Phillies (winners of 30 of their last 38 games by the way).

All in all, I expect a low scoring series, with probably mostly 2-1, and 3-2 games, but one that the Phillies clearly prove the superiority of their talent and experience. Their offense is much better than the Giants offense, and they know how to score runs when they need them.

I’ll take the Phillies  to win it at home in game 6, with Roy Halladay winning the MVP (way to go out on a limb, I know).

What are your predictions for the series? Who wins, how many games, and who is MVP?

- Al Redrup

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Party of Two

 

 

Don Larsen and Yogi Berra

 

In 1956, Don Larsen became the only pitcher in the history of the MLB playoffs to throw a no-hitter. Actually, he did one better by retiring all 27 batters en route to the most famous perfect game in baseball history. In the 54 years following this incredible achievement, no one was able to join this most exclusive of clubs. Not Sandy Koufax, not Nolan Ryan, not Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, nor Roger Clemens. All this time, the list remained at just one name long. And then Roy Halladay finally pitched a playoff game last night. That is was his first playoff game should not go unnoticed. Last night, in his postseason debut, Halladay became the second pitcher in the history of the MLB playoffs to throw a no-hit, no-run game.

To simply say that he was dominant does no justice to the masterpiece he unfurled last night. They say that you never know what you’ll get from a player in the playoffs until he has proven himself.  Well if anyone doubted how Roy Halladay would handle the pressures of playoff baseball, they are doubters no longer. It wasn’t as if the Cincinnati Reds are a bunch of scrubs. This is a team who collectively led the National League in all 3 triple crown categories this season (batting average, home runs, & RBIs). They are arguably the best offensive force in the NL, also leading the league in runs scored. They scored 18 more runs than the mighty Phillies (for the record, I would argue that the Phillies would have easily led the NL in runs if they were even remotely close to being healthy this year). And then they squared off against Harry Leroy Halladay, and he proceeded to make them look like a bunch of little leaguers, flailing helplessly at his sinking fastball, cutter, slider, or changeup.

He was mixing and matching pitch speeds and location, going up and down, in and out of the strike zone as he pleased. On this night, only a 2 out walk to Jay Bruce in the 5th inning kept him from being the first man to ever pitch 2 perfect games in an entire career, much less one season. As it is, he is the only man to ever throw a perfect game and another no hitter in one season. He is also the only man the throw a no hitter in the playoffs after having thrown a no hitter in that same regular season. He is only the 5th man to ever throw 2 no hitters in one season. And just think, this was his first ever playoff game. What else might this man do before the season ends? What other lists will he create before all is said and done?

 

 

The Doctor and Chooch. Apparently, there is only one way to celebrate a playoff no-hitter.

 

After the game, the Reds said all the right things about how it was only one game, and Halladay couldn’t pitch them all. I remember the Yankees saying the same thing after Cliff Lee dazzled them in game one of the World Series last year. Last year, the Yankees were quite right; we had an aging Pedro Martinez and a largely ineffective Cole Hamels to back up Cliff Lee in games 2 and 3. This year is a different story. If the Reds are looking for some kind of break with Roy Oswalt in game 2, or a much-rejuvenated Hamels in game 3, then they are delusional. Roy Oswalt will take the mound to start a game for the 11th time in his career at Citizen’s Bank Park. His record in the first 10? That would be 9-0, with the only no-decision coming in a Phillies’ win earlier this year after he joined the club from Houston in a mid-season trade. His record against the Reds? That would be 23-3 for his career. I don’t think the Reds are going to get that much help there.

That leaves Cole Hamels. His ERA against the Reds is a shade higher than 1.00 over his career. He, like Oswalt has said about the mound at CBP, says he loves the mound at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. If the Reds are looking for a weak link to this rotation, they might have to wait until the next regular season series between these two ball clubs and hope they get lucky enough to miss one or two of these guys.

I hope they’re enjoying their first trip to the postseason since 1995, because it isn’t looking like it will last very long for them. In the playoffs, good pitching always beats good hitting. It always has and it always will. The Phillies don’t have good pitching, they have great pitching. The Phillies have better players, a better manager, and lots of championship experience. The Reds are in trouble.

-Murdock

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The Vick and the Dead

Storylines…so many storylines.

It’s a media field day in Philadelphia this weekend. Forget about locally, nationally this game has been circled ever since Donovan was traded to the Redskins. Trading your quarterback of eleven years to a team within the division made about as much sense as trading Cliff Lee naming Allen Iverson head coach of your basketball team. I mean, even the Sixers had the sense to not trade Barkley within the conference.

But here we are. Two wins, one loss … just about what we expected. What we did not expect was for Michael Vick to be the starting quarterback, much less have the 3rd highest quarterback rating in the entire NFL with 7 passing touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

This was supposed to be a “rebuilding” year. You let Kolb start, you take your lumps, you end up somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 and figure “It happens, we’re growing.”

Instead, we get a rejuvenated Vick who appears to actually be coachable. *headscratch*

Wait a minute…”pocket passer” Michael Vick? Goes through his progressions…and THEN runs? I’m…confused.

Michael Vick has always had incredible potential…but that’s all it’s been. Untapped potential. He

Donovan was Vick, before Vick…he never had 4.4 world-class speed, but at one point he was the best running QB in the league – and still is top 5. His problem is/was he became so concerned with being a “stereotypical” running-slash-black quarterback that he rarely left the pocket.

So now Andy has young Donovan…aka Vick 2.0…I have to give him credit(wow, that sounds weird) for realizing that Vick was starting to come into his own as a complete quarterback, then giving him the reins…even after he realized he would be contradicting himself. Suddenly, the season is completely unpredictable again. Can Vick keep it up, even against better opponents?

As for McNabb getting booed, I think it’ll happen – but it won’t be the majority of fans. The boos might be loud, but it’ll probably be somewhere from 25%-35% percent boos…the rest will be cheers. As they should be. McNabb was great. He wasn’t clutch, but he was great. If you could give Donovan even 50% of the heart of the members of the Phillies, he would’ve won multiple Superbowl titles.

McNabb: "The trick is to aim for their shoelaces." Vick: "...you're sure about this?"

So what do you think this weekend? Who wins?

Will you boo McNabb?

- Magnum

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Instant Turner-round? NBA Draft Review

I’m 99% sure all of the good puns and plays on the name “Evan” or “Turner” have been used by now, but this will have to do.
As a matter of fact, there were probably a least a few dozen newspapers and blogs that had a field day using the names “Wall”, “Turner”, “Favors”, and “Cousins”. If you put a little imagination into it, you could probably play yourself a quick version of Mad-Libs with those four nouns.
I love when people try and “grade” the draft. That’s like trying to grade a bowlful of ingredients before you actually bake them and see what it makes. Milk, eggs, flour, butter, and sugar may not look like much now, but until you actually give it time at 400°, you have no idea what you’re gonna get.
Here’s what we DO know. Evan Turner is one of the hardest working players in this draft. Not will be, IS.
The term “complete” player is thrown out a lot nowadays, but the truth of this matter is that Evan Turner is the first player since Oscar Robertson back in 1960(!) to average 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.
With no more Eddie Jordan aka the Rich Kotite of the NBA, and a scoring guard who is ready to play now – this team is at least 15-20 games better than last year. Don’t get too excited, that still only puts them at around 45 wins. But at the very least, they should be fun and competitive.

Hey Stefanski, don't get your bad luck on our new franchise.

Not grading the NBA Draft doesn’t mean we can’t analyze it, so let’s have a look.

– John Wall
(6-4 | 196 | PG | Kentucky | Pick # 1 overall to the Washington Wizards)

John Wall might be the quickest player to grace an NBA floor since some kid nicknamed “The Answer” put on a Sixers uniform back in ’96. Wall, however – is a point guard who can score, not a shooting guard in a high school point guards’ body.

I think the only issues I have with him are A. I would like him way better if he was a center(I love players whose positions fit their name a la Rashaan Salaam / RB or Will Shields / tackle) and B. He has to share a backcourt with Gilbert Arenas –  the only player whose Q rating is equal to his jersey number.

- Derrick Favors (6-10 | 245 | PF | Georgia Tech | Pick #3 overall to the NJ Nets)

Favors reminds some of Antonio McDyess pre-knee reconstruction. Do yourself a … service and go look up some of this Nuggets highlights. You’ll get the idea. One of those freakishly athletic big men. As we all know however, athleticism can only take you so far though in this league. (see: Darius Miles, James White) We’ll see if Avery Johnson can help him develop and reach his potential.

- Wesley Johnson (6-7 | 206 | SF | Syracuse | Pick #4 overall to the Minnesota Timberwolves)

Being named “Wesley” entitles you to a jumpshot. No one ever named “Wesley” didn’t have a midrange game.  I figured the Timberwolves would go for a player with a bigger upside, having only won 15 games last year. For the sake of the Big East, lets hope he becomes more than a marginal player.

-  DeMarcus Cousins (6’11 | 292 | C | Kentucky | Pick #5 overall to the Sacramento Kings)

This pick has to be the biggest “Boom vs. Bust” in the entire draft. Potentially, he could be Shaq-lite(25% less fat!) … or, he could be Eddy Curry/Derrick Coleman parts 2 and 3. He only averaged 23 minutes a game in his one year in college. Mind you, he put up solid numbers in those few minutes(15/10 per), but it has led just about everyone to question his work ethic and maturity.

Personally, I don’t think I could make a gamble on a player whose name sounds remotely like “JaMarcus”.

- Ekpe Udoh (6’10 | 237 | PF | Baylor | Pick #6 overall to the Golden State Warriors)

Whenever I think about how hard its been to be a Sixers fan, I thank my lucky stars I’m not a Warriors fan. Oddly enough, Golden States fans are some of the most loyal, rabid fans in the NBA.

…even in cases when the team is so clearly botching its draft picks.

Call me a pessimist, but I fail to see how a 6’10 offensively challenged power forward helps this team to really improve over the next few years.

- Greg Munroe (6-11 | 247 | PF/C | Georgetown | Pick #7 overall to the Detroit Pistons)

Georgetown and centers used to be synonymous, like Penn State and Linebackers. Not so in the last ten years or so, although I guess the jury is still out on Hibbert. Munroe  plays big, and he’s a fantastic passer from the paint. He should fit right in with the Pistons, but they are still missing an all-star quality starter.

- Al-Farouq Aminu (6-8 | 216 | SF | Wake Forest | Pick #8 overall to the LA Clippers)

Hypothetically, the Clippers could have the most athletic 2-3-4 combination in the league. Purely hypothetically, of course, since it’s impossible for the Clippers ever be as good in reality as they are on paper. Expect an injury of some nature to hit any day now.

- Gordon Heyward (6-8 | 211 | SF | Butler | Pick #9 overall to the Utah Jazz)

A lot of people saw this as the first surprise pick of the draft, but bome on, like the Jazz were going to let Heyward slip past them? Have you seen their roster? My guess is he wouldn’t even be near the lottery if it weren’t for Butler’s tournament run, and he might have even gone higher had he hit that half-court shot and won the title. He’s Matt Harpring 2.0, he’ll do just fine out in Salt Lake City.

- Paul George (6-9 | 214 | SF | Fresno St. | Pick #10 overall to the Indiana Pacers)

I’m not quite sure Larry Bird pays attention at all during the draft at all anymore. He essentially drafted a Danny Granger clone, which would be great – if he didn’t already have Danny Granger.

- Cole Aldrich (6-10 | 236 | C | Kansas | Pick #11 overall to the New Orleans Hornets / Traded to OKC)

Dear Cole Aldrich, please be better than Eric Montross, Bryant Reeves, Robert Swift, and Spencer Hawes. We’re looking more for a Chris Kaman, Andrew Bogut-level of productivity.

- Xavier Henry (6-6 | 210 | SG | Kansas | Pick #12 overall to the Memphis Grizzlies)

I really like this pick, unfortunately Memphis is about as significant to the NBA as Kansas City is to the MLB. Have fun languishing in mediocrity until you can become a free agent.

- Ed Davis (6-10 | 227 | PF | North Carolina | Pick #13 overall to the Toronto Raptors)

Just call him not Chris Bosh. I hope you 17 Toronto fans really enjoyed having one of the best power forwards in the league, as well as the only superstar who looked like the mascot.

- Patrick Patterson (6-9 | 240 | PF | Kentucky | Pick #14 overall to the Houston Rockets)

Rockets typically seem to get good value out of their picks, and while Patterson was outshined next to John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins last year, he really could turn out to be a good pro.

There are virtually no guarantees in the NBA draft, but especially not after the lottery – and since the Sixers didn’t have any more picks, I’ll leave you with the best of the rest from draft night.

Except for Wesley Johnson’s plaid pajama pants, there weren’t really any crazy suits to speak of , so here are the coolest names in this years draft:

Quincy Pondexter – This name does NOT make me think “6’7, 215 rebounding small forward”. If he ever goes into the workforce, he’s going to freak a lot of people out who see his resume and bring him in for an interview. |

Lazar Hayward – I’m actually kind of surprised more kids born in the 80’s aren’t named “Lazar”.

Tiny Gallon – Built just like you imagine he would be. 6’10, 305. Also, if he washes out of the NBA – there isn’t one nightclub that won’t hire him on name alone.

Magnum Rolle – Go ahead, ask his mother what her favorite 80’s TV show was.

Derrick Caracter – Shame he’s a longshot to make an NBA roster. There are hundreds of newspaper headlines and twitter hashtags just waiting for his name.

- Some final points of note:

Bucking a trend, American white players were way more popular than Europeans this year. Picks #9, 11, 16, 38, and 52 were your standard “white guy” versus only the #31 and #35 pick being the kind with funny accents.

Point guards were all over last years draft. Evans, Jennings, Flynn, Holiday, Lawson, Collison, Rubio…etc. After John Wall, there were only two other point guards taken in the first round.

Will David Stern, or any commissioner ever wise up and have someone entertaining do the player selections at the draft? Think about how much more fun it would be to watch if Dwayne Johnson or Jamie Foxx ran the show.

So what do you think Sixers fans? Happy about the pick? Excited about the upcoming season?

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What a Difference a Week Makes

In my last post I wondered if the Phillies’ dormant offense was finally starting to get back on track, and their play since has answered that emphatically. The offense is starting to do what they do best again: mash teams to death. Chase Utley has been fantastic (.318 batting average, 7 RBIs in the last 6 games), ever since a report last week that he was playing injured. Apparently, Chase doesn’t like it when people suggest that he is hurt, because he’s been playing like a man possessed ever since then. Jayson Werth has also been hot in the past week, batting .333 with 2 homers and 5 RBIs in his last 6 games.

Those 2 guys were a big part of the reason that the Phillies struggled so mightily to score runs over a stretch of games spanning almost a full month. When two of your best three hitters (Ryan Howard being the other) are slumping, it’s a pretty good bet that your team will find runs hard to come by. Oh, and the Phillies have been playing basically the entire season without another one of their best players, Jimmy Rollins. He wasted no time in reminding everyone just how much his presence was missed, belting a 2 run, walkoff homerun in the bottom of the 9th inning in last night’s game vs the Cleveland Indians and the Phils came from behind to win by a score of 7-6.

Despite a hiccup by the bullpen over the weekend vs with Minnesota Twins, the Phillies seem to be back to playing very good baseball again, something we have definitely been spoiled watching over the past 4 years. In the last 3 days, they have made up 3 games of ground against the Braves, trimming their divisional lead from 5.5 to 2.5 games over that span.

Today the Phillies absolutely hammered the Indians 12-3 to complete the 3 game sweep. They now are about to play a “road” series in Philadelphia against the Toronto Blue Jays because of a scheduling conflict in Toronto. The Blue Jays will bat last, and the DH will be in play, as American League rules will be enforced during this unusual series. It should be interesting to see a DH play in a game in Philadelphia.

The Phillies haven’t played quite as well as we might have expected during the season’s first 70 games, but they have always been a great second half team, and there is absolutely no reason to think that this year will be any different. Right now they look to be priming themselves for a push toward taking that divisional lead back to where it belongs, with Rollins, Werth, and Utley leading the way.

- Murdock

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Are the Phillies Back?

Well, the Phillies went into Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night reeling. They had won only 8 of their previous 24 games, and more alarmingly, had only scored 58 runs over that 24 game stretch. 18 of those 24 games they had scored just 3 or fewer runs. Their pitching was actually doing really well, but with such an anemic offense, it was hard to even notice the success of their pitching staff.

Going into Yankee stadium, they had their ace, Roy Halladay facing off against the Yankees’ ace, CC Sabathia in the first game of the 3 game interleague series. As Phillies’ fans, we were hoping that they could get a well-pitched game from Halladay, and maybe somehow win one of the final 2 games which would pit Jamie Moyer vs AJ Burnett and Kyle Kendrick vs Andy Pettitte. Halladay was shelled, and the Phillies lost the opening game by a score of 8-3. Even the most optimistic fan could have only been hoping to not be swept at that point, but a funny thing happened. The Phillies bats finally came alive, and they won both of the final two games to become only the second team to win a series vs the Yankees in Yankee Stadium this season (the Tampa Bay Rays being the other team). Better yet, they scored 13 runs in the final two games against what is arguably the best team in baseball.

"Oh, hello Power Hitting...haven't seen you in a while."

This Phillies team has always been very streaky, and their tough stretches always seem to come in the first half of the year. Hopefully, this was just another case of their yearly June blues. Chase Utley is struggling mightily, and Jimmy Rollins has been injured for almost the entire season. The absence of Rollins and the epic slump by Utley can explain their offensive futility over the past month or so, but let’s just hope that better days are ahead. The Phillies are about to start a series against a very good Minnesota Twins team, so they are going to have to play the same way they played against the Yankees if they hope to finally string some wins together, and begin to close the gap on the two teams ahead of them in the NL East, the Braves and (ugh) the Mets.

- Murdock

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Boston’s Stranglers – NBA Finals Game 6 preview

Who saw this coming?

*raises hand*

A lot of you saw the Lakers come out and manhandle the Celtics in game 1 and thought “Well, this is over in 5, max.”

I thought that about them against the Cavs in the conference finals, and they proved me wrong. So I knew they had another level they could reach.

Definitely my new favorite nicknames.

Here’s what I can tell the main difference between Kobe and MJ is: Jordan’s teammates feared and respected him – never wanted to let him down. Kobe’s teammates seem to tolerate him…sometimes they’ll rally around him, but I don’t see the reverence that Mike received.

Overall, the Celtics team seems to be working harder the majority of the series. Diving for loose balls, blocking shots, boxing out for rebounds. When the bench players come into the game, you know you’re going to get “energy” plays for their duration on the court.

One odd thing about this series is you can’t really identify an MVP on the Boston side. Every night you get a different player stepping up. In the first few games it looked as if Ron Artest was doing just what they signed him for: shutting down the other team’s #1 scorer – that is, Paul Pierce.

In the last two games, it looks like Ron Artest has been more concerned with winning a Grammy than winning a NBA title. He missed two crucial free throws in the final minutes and allowed Paul Pierce to score 19 and 27 in games 4 and 5.

In game 5, the Celtics shot 56% from the field – that’s about the opposite of championship defense. If they had kept the Celtics to under or around 50% – they absolutely would’ve won the game with the way Kobe was scoring. Boston’s defense has been smothering, and I still think Kobe has a 40+ point game in him.

Will Boston get title number 18 tonight, or will the Lakers push it to game 7? What do you think?

- Arie Mangrum aka Magnum

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