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Jack McCaffery is the lead sports columnist for the Daily Times and He has spent several decades covering everything from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and Sixers, to college hoops, to high school sports in Delco.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


By Jack McCaffery
PHILADELPHIA >> With too many injuries, too few players, too much front-office caution and too little time, the 76ers long have been down to minimum of possible 2016-2017 achievements. Through it all, though, Brett Brown has hoped for one reasonable achievement.
“The only goal that we set, from a numerical standpoint, from our second day at Stockton,” Brown said Tuesday, before a 141-118 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. “was that we wanted to be a Top 15 defensive team. If you go back to the tenets of, 'Who are we?,' we'd better grow this through defense, space and pace. It has to begin with that. And as we sit, with four games left after tonight, we're 14th.”
That has been Brown's philosophy in his four years as head coach. And for most of this season, at least the Sixers seemed to comprehend the concept. But without their two most capable defenders, Robert Covington and Joel Embiid – three, including the traded Nerlens Noel - their defense has been decaying. And by Tuesday, it had practically vanished.
The Sixers allowed 40 points in the first quarter and 41 in the second, the Nets' 81-point output being a Wells Fargo Center floor record for a half. Down to what would have been its fourth center entering the season in Richaun Holmes, Brown's team had little presence in the middle. Without Covington, projected as at least a second-team NBA All-Defense choice, their perimeter defense was not much better. In the first quarter, the Nets, often left open, mad 15 of 21 shots, including six of nine from three-point range, for a staggering 71.4 percent success rate.
“None of us could guard any of them,” Brown said. “I could leave now and that should be the headline.”
That was about it.
“It was hard,” Dario Saric said. “It was under any NBA level. I always try to talk honestly and I apologize to Philly fans. I hope we have the opportunity, with three more games at home, to try to show who we are.”
In allowing the 19-59 Nets to score 141 points on just 75 shots, the Sixers dipped from No. 14 to No. 17 in the NBA's overall defensive ratings. With only four games remaining, there can't be too much volatility in any season-long statistic. But the Sixers will play those games without Covington, who has a torn meniscus in his right knee.
“It's hard,” Brown said. “When you take away Nerlens and you take away Joel Embiid and you take away Covington, it's hard. So you just have to rely on more team concepts. You've got to do everything by committee. It's not like you can make mistakes and there's Joel and Nerlens at the rim to put that fire out.”
The Sixers have surrendered 112, 122, 107, 107, 101, 99, 122, 113 and 141 in their last nine games, and were ranked No. 23 in average points allowed before eight Nets to score in double figures.
With that, Brown's singular goal was moving out of reach.
“That's the only numerical stat that I reference to our team,” he said. “The 30 wins and other things, I understand. But for me, it is that: It is being a Top 15 team with the understanding that we want to get in the top 10 next year.”

Monday, April 3, 2017


A baseball forecast for 2017:

N.L. East champion: The Mets, in a breeze.
N.L. Central champion: The Cubs, on a roll.
N.L. West champion: Dodgers, narrowly.
N.L. Wild card: Giants.
N.L. Wild card: Pirates

A.L. East champion: Yankees, pulling away late.
A.L. Central champion: Indians, still around.
A.L. West champion: Angels, as Mike Scioscia finds a way.
A.L. Wild card: Blue Jays.
A.L. Wild card: A's.

N.L. champion: Mets.
A.L. champion: Indians.

World Series champions: Indians … it's their turn.

N.L. MVP: Giancarlo Stanton is on a mission.
A.L. MVP: Mike Trout, from start to finish.

N.L. Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, none better.
A.L. Cy Young: Corey Kluber will dominate.

- Jack McCaffery


Projecting the Phillies' 2017 achievements, 162 games in advance:

TEAM MVP: Tommy Joseph. While technically a surprise last season after having all but fallen out of the Phillies' plans, he was the centerpiece to the odd 2012 trade of Hunter Pence to the Giants.
Relieved of concussions, and his eye trouble corrected, the powerful Joseph can be a middle-lineup force.

BEST PITCHER: Jerad Eickhoff. His mix of control – he hardly walks anyone – and velocity, along with a wicked curveball, will make him an All-Star at age 26.

MOST IMPROVED: Maikel Franco will improve on his plate discipline, stay healthy and add to his status as a franchise centerpiece.

BRIGHTEST SURPRISE: Despite a shaky spring training, a healthy Aaron Nola will show the talent that made him the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Freddy Galvis can be the Phillies' best defensive shortstop ever … Larry Bowa and Jimmy Rollins included.

ALL-STARS: Eickhoff, Joseph.

TOP ROOKIE: Brock Stassi can become a quick fan favorite.

BEST NEWCOMER: Pat Neshek will be a settling, effective bullpen force.

- Jack McCaffery  


A look at the 2017 Phillies, by the numbers:

0: Members of the 2008 championship team on the Opening Day roster.
1: Cesar Hernandez's spot in the batting order.
1.14: The WHIP of Jerad Eickhoff in his first two seasons, second lowest by any Phillie since 1901.
2: The number of 2016 All-Stars – Odubel Herrera and Michael Saunders - who will be in the starting outfield.
3: The number of years that Cameron Rupp's father once pitched in the Montreal Expos system.
4: The number of projected Phillies starters who hit at least 20 home runs last season – Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders, Tommy Joseph and Freddy Galvis.
5: Positions (first, second, third, short, left) played by Andres Blanco last year.
6: Saves blown in 2016 by Jeanmar Gomez.
7: Countries represented by major and minor league Phillies in the World Baseball Classic.
8: Seasons since the last Phillies world championship.
9: Times in his 11-year career that Howie Kendrick has hit .285 or better.
10: Seasons since MVP Jimmy Rollins called the 2007 Phillies the “team to beat.”
11: Consecutive appearances by Joely Rodriguez last season in Reading without allowing an earned run.
13: Times Hernandez was caught stealing last season in 30 attempts.
14: Wins in April for the 2016 team, against 10 losses.
16: Strikeouts by Vince Velasquez of San Diego Padres last April 14.
18: Games for the Phillies played by Pete Mackanin in 1978 and 1979.
20: More games lost than won by the 71-91 2016 team.
23.0: Consecutive scoreless innings thrown by Aaron Nola from April 22 through May 8 last season.
33: The 2011 round Brock Stassi, who won a spot on the Opening Day roster, was drafted in.
37: Saves from Gomez in 2016.
39: Joaquin Benoit's age.
46: The uniform number of the late Dallas Green, the Phillies wearing a patch this season in his memory.
102: Strikeouts by Hector Neris last season, second most by a reliever in Phillies history. Dick Selma had 153 in 1970
155: The number of games started by Herrera in center last season, most in the National League.
.194: The batting average that Pat Neshek held opponents to last season in Houston.
230: Reporting weight at spring training for bulked-up Edubray Ramos.
.306: Maikel Franco's batting average over the final 26 games of last season.
333: The pick in the 2004 draft that the Mariners spent on Michael Saunders.
382: The career home runs gone with the buy-out of Ryan Howard.
.500: The modest goal for the record, at least early in the season, set by Mackanin.
.944: OPS of revived Aaron Altherr in spring training.
.987: Freddy Galvis' fielding percentage last season, tops among National League shortstops.
9,208: Total victories in Phillies history.
10,317: Total losses in Phillies history.
23,643: The Phillies' disappointing average home attendance last season, 24th best in baseball.
17,200,000: The dollars Jeremy Hellickson accepted for one year as a qualifying offer, rejecting free agency.