First and foremost, more foremost than any team I have ever rooted for, are the World Series Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Offense: The Phils were 3rd in runs, 1st in home runs, 2nd in RBI, 3rd in stolen bases (although 1st in percentage), and 2nd in wins in the entire National League. Add in playoff numbers and it is safe to say that the offense would probably be number one in just about every category. With the most potent infield in the game, Howard, Utley and Rollins are a formidable trio. When one is not hitting, the others are. In most cases however, you will find it hard to get around all three of them in one game. Pat Burrell finally cemented his place in left field for Phillies eternity. Regardless of where he signs, he will be a lifelong Phillie and a fan favorite. More to come on Pat the Glove in another post. Grade: A+
Defense: Adding Pedro Feliz was one of the least publicized moves of the offseason. But what it did for this team was more many can understand. We added the best defensive third baseman in the national league. Add that two now 2-time gold glove winner Jimmy Rollins and one of the best fielding and smartest second basemen in the game in Chase Utley and you have a pretty leather-y infield. Even the DH with a glove on his hand picked up his defense in the final quarter of the season. Pat Burrell may not be fast, but he lets singles be singles. He doesn't turn them into doubles. Oh yeah and he lead Major League Baseball with 12 outfield assists. Boo-ya. Shane Victorino added a gold glove to his resume, and Jayson Werth proved to be a starting right fielder, by no means an easy task. Carlos Ruiz showed in the World Series why batting average is overrated, by calling some of the best games that anyone has ever seen out of Cole Hamels, not to mention an unheard of like Joe Blanton. The Phils finished 3rd in the NL in fielding percentage and 3rd in all of baseball as well. Grade: A-
Pitching: 4th in ERA, 2nd in saves, 1st in blown saves, 3rd in shutouts, and 1st in overall bullpen. Pitching was supposed to be the problem wasn't it? Only having two proven starters in injury plagued Cole Hamels and Senior Citizen Jamie Moyer while relying on a head case to make the switch back from closer to starter, rookie semi-sensation Kyle Kendrick and... the pitcher who must not be named...
... fine, I'll say it. Adam Eaton (Lightning crashes). And here come some more parenthesis... (Look, Adam Eaton is a nice enough guy. To bash Gillick on this signing is not fair. Every general manager makes brilliant decisions and some that couldn't be more idiotic. To boo Adam Eaton is not fair. He did not hold out for the most money that he could find. He did not turn down teams offering him money left and right. He was sort of sitting around when the Phillies shoved an unprecedented 24 million dollars in his face. I'm sure he said something along the lines of, "wait you want me to do what with that ball? Pitch it? In a starting rotation? In Philadelphia? For HOW much money? OK sure, but just remember, YOU asked ME." This is not a bad guy. Anyone expecting him to be even a competent fifth starter was expecting too much. This man even got shelled in Single-A ball. Nice guy and I hope he enjoys his paycheck, as long as he is enjoying it far away from the Phillies)
To continue, an unbalanced closer, and the worst bullpen in the league in 2007. Add it all up and... the best rotation in the National League. World Series Champs. Wahoo! Grade: A+
2008 Grade: A+(plus)+(plus)+(plus)+(plus)+(plus) in honor of Ralphie's Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB Gun Essay
Philadelphia Flyers. The worst team in the league from 2006-2007 couldn't even win at being the worst which is why they received the number 2 draft pick instead of the number 1. We all knew what to expect after that short lived playoff birth in 05-06. We saw that our defenseman pretty much forgot how to skate and that our big signing, Peter Forsberg, was a diva with a "boot-fitting" problem, something unbeknownst to, oh say anyone who has ever watched hockey. Forget about that lost season. It was necessary to bring in the talent that got us to where are now. After an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals where we got shelacked by the Penguins, we knew what we had. 2008 has been kind to the Flyers. The rebuilding process is supposed to take a few years, not one year.
Offense: The most consistent power play in the NHL is lethal. Add Simon Gagne, back with vengeance (he can keep the 07-08 season's motto since he didn't really get to use it that much), Captain Mike Richards, ankle-blood-clot-free Kimo Timonen, and newfound MVP Jeff Carter to the equation, they are pretty much a given to score on the power play. The problem comes in the form of 5-on-5 ice time. This team gets its goals, but is pretty reliant on the power play. This can become a problem in the playoffs where the referees are less likely to take over a game. They let the players play, thus subtracting the Flyers main scoring threat. Grade: B+
Defense: Inconsistent? Surprisingly no. The first month of the season saw the Flyers learning how to play with speedster Luca Sbisa and without Ryan Parent or Randy Jones. Throw in Andy Alberts and take away part of the team's heart in Derian Hatcher, the team was out of sync defensively. Trading insane, wanting to hit anything that moves, forgetting that talent is supposed to be used, former first round pick Steve Downie for young defensive stud, Matt Carle, really breathed some life into the Flyers D. The reason that the Flyers lead the league in shorthanded goals is because of their defense-first approach. Worry about stopping the other team and our own chances will come. Richards is playing like the penalty killer that we have always known he is, Gagne is back from injury, and Carter recently learned how to commit his body to staying behind the blue line. Grade: B+
Goaltending: Biron has stepped up his game when he needs to. He seems to defeat his childhood rival team in the Montreal Canadians, and when the going is good, Biron is a steady goaltender. Nittymaki is an above average backup, making up for the average goaltender that Biron is. He can step in and easily dominate the Atlanta Thrashers, and when it comes to real NHL teams he can compete too. Grade: B-
2008 Grade: B
Oh those Eagles. It's always something with them isn't it?
Offense: Donavon McNabb. Based on what we have seen from Five, it is apparent that he might be a little crazier than we all thought. Sure the benching against the Ravens scared him into becoming the QB we've been used to seeing for a decade, but why does an all-pro quarterback need to be scared into losing his job to save himself? When on, McNabb is as good as a passer as he has ever been. He threads the needle and if need be he can run a little bit too.
Westbrook is the monster that we have come to expect out of Route 36 when healthy. We all know that. He can block, run, catch, and apparently run down 98 yard interceptions too. The wideouts don't boast big names besides rookie sensation The Sean Jackson, yet they are not the problem. They get open and give McNabb the opportunity to make plays. The tight end position has a week-to-week success rate. The one thing that never changes is my heart stopping every time LJ Smith runs with the ball... does he not threaten to fumble after every catch? The O-Line seems to be missing Shawn Andrews, but John Runyan has given the Eagles a reason to bring him back for one last contract and maybe another after that. But for the love of God, can we get a real fullback? Grade: B-
Defense: A deep secondary forces the opponent to run in situations where they might pass. Our run defense has been nothing short of dominant for the most part. Removing Omar Gaither for Akeem Jordan has improved the run defense even more. Maybe that 5th round draft pick who was supposed to be the heir apparent to Jeremiah Trotter didn't pan out too well. Lito Shepard has not been a distraction. He is not happy yet has been as professional as a former pro-bowler can be in his situation. He bears no ill will towards Asante Samuel. I'm guessing that he will follow up this season with a starting job on some mid-range team and he will probably do pretty decently. Pro bowl numbers? No, but numbers worthy of a starting position. Trent Cole may not be on pace for as many sacks as he had last year (12.5) but he has not lost an ounce of ferocity in his game. Darren Howard lost some weight and has contributed 8 sacks to the overall 3rd best defense in the NFL. They seem to have dropped that "bend but don't break" label too. Grade: A-
Special Teams: Looks like it's time to draft a new kicker. David Akers is definitely average, and is above average on some days, but his contract does not warrant keeping someone around who does not have the ability to kick a 50 yarder. Our return game is above average on both levels. Desean Jackson needs to learn that taking 8 yards is better than scrambling backwards and eventually falling forward for 2 yards. I respect that he wants to do more than we have become accustomed to in Philly, but a mediocre return is always better than trying to do too much and ending up with nothing. Quintin Demps is a major improvement in the kicking return category. Grade: B
2008 Grade: C Why is this letter lower than ALL of the grades so far? Not that this question needs to be answered by anyone who has watched this team play all season, but this team has not had it together for 2008. Tying the Bengals, benching an all-pro QB, blowing a 14 point lead over the now inept Redskins, losing the game on the goal line to the Kyle Orton lead Bears, and week after week of red zone failures leads to a C grade for the year. And that's being nice.
And the forgotten team. The team that fans forget to buy tickets to enjoy. That fans forget to watch on TV. Why? Because there are no results.
Offense: After getting semi-excited about that first round playoff exit last year, where the games played in Philadelphia were not even closed to being sold out, the team has taken a gigantic step backward. Signing Elton Brand to a 5 year mega-deal and locking up Iguodala for the prime years of his unproductiveness looks like it will only keep us in the basement for another few years. Elton Brand is slow and it looks like out of shape. Anyone who gets injured twice in his first 25 games with the team is not worth a hefty 16 million dollars a year for five years. And for those that argue and say that Iguodala's 4 points in a win over Milwaukee is fine because it led to a win - well it isn't even close to being fine. Paying that much money to someone who shoots 2-14 and cannot get to the line in a win over a bottom 10 team only points towards disaster. Oh and Sammy Dalembert is completely untradable now. Grade: D
Defense: Iggy's defense has shown spurts of life here and now but again, it is not enough to warrant his contract. While only allowing 94.6 points a game, a solid 8th in the league, the team isn't shutting down when it needs to. Sammy Dalembert averaged 2.3 blocks a game a year ago, now that is down a whole block to 1.3. His rebounding is down by more than 2 a game and his points per game have been cut in half, just to keep with the trend of regression. While the beginning of '08 looked nice for Sammy, his shortcomings this year may keep him from ever really breaking out. Grade: C
2008 Grade: C- The team moved in the right direction, but their inability to take another step forward has bad implications for this team. One coach and a star player down less than two months into the season and the few fans that actually care may be in a state of apathy by midseason.
So long 2008. You have been the best sports year of my life thanks to the Phillies. A good quote to look forward to from Jimmy Rollins, ""You don't repeat a World Series," Rollins said. "You don't repeat a game. You don't repeat a pitch. You don't really repeat a swing. You just try to do it again. And that's different."
Lets hope for a "different" kind of year in 2009.