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Falcons fans just as tortured as Eagles fans

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Falcons fans just as tortured as Eagles fans

To be a Philadelphia fan is often to court heartache. The latest in a lengthy line of torment is seeing a promising Super Bowl run potentially torn apart along with Carson Wentz’s ACL.

But if you think Philly has the market cornered on sports-based angina, remember Atlanta.

The Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship remains the apex of the last quarter century in Philly sports. But there is a part of every fan that saw the Charlie Manuel-era Phils who believe a championship or two remained uncaptured. The fabled four-ace season of 2011 stands out as a missed opportunity, even more so than the defeat to the Yankees in the 2009 Fall Classic.

Atlanta sees that five-year run and raises you 14 straight division titles with only one championship to show for it. During that span in which the Braves sported arguably the best rotation ever assembled — Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — Atlanta earned just one championship parade. Also, you could argue that is the least-heralded championship in MLB history since it came in the 1995 season that followed the work stoppage that alienated large pockets of fans. Adding insult to injury, the Braves were vanquished twice in the World Series by the Yankees team that became the dynasty Atlanta should have had.

While the 76ers trusted in a process and, at the very least, assembled a collection of very talented young players, the Hawks went all-in with former Brett Brown colleague Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks were instant contenders in an Eastern Conference that featured an in-his-prime LeBron James. Good call, Hawks. As a reward, Atlanta fans currently get to watch the worst team in the NBA.

That brings us to football. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to see the parallels between the Falcons and Eagles. Both cities fell head over heels in love with defensive-minded coaches that were big on bravado and short on playoff results in the late-80s and early-90s. The only thing that separates Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville is that Glanville had MC Hammer as a sideline companion and Ryan had Rich Kotite. (As a child, I don’t recall much difference between Hammer and Richie the K in the charisma department.)

How about generational athletes at the quarterback position? Philly had Randall Cunningham. Atlanta had Michael Vick. (As did Philly eventually.) And both cities came to realize that the NFL values convention over improvisation at its most important position.    

Both cities have suffered through a pair of Super Bowl defeats. But even a Philly fan has to tip their cap to Atlanta in this department. The Eagles lost a pair of also-ran Super Bowls. The Falcons, on the other hand, have had two memorable meltdowns. One by an individual, the other a collective undoing.

The Falcons were blown out by John Elway and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII but that game is arguably best remembered by what happened the night before the contest. Pro Bowl safety Eugene Robinson, that year’s recipient of the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership, was arrested the night before the game for soliciting a prostitute. It’s almost unfathomable to think how Philadelphia, a city that continues to litigate whether the quarterback puked in the huddle 13 years ago, would have reacted to a Robinson-type story with the Eagles in the Super Bowl.

Then, there was last season’s Super Bowl meltdown against the Patriots that saw a 28-3 third-quarter lead evaporate under the intense pressure of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. At least the Eagles did their fans the favor of losing to that duo in a conventional fashion.

So take comfort, Eagles fans. When that feeling of dread starts to churn through your stomach Saturday around 4:30 p.m., know there is someone just like you in Atlanta that is expecting the worst too.

Roster review — Phillies just better than Mets, Marlins, Braves

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Roster review — Phillies just better than Mets, Marlins, Braves

The Nationals are obviously the class of the NL East. Most stars, best lineup, best rotation, much better bullpen than they opened 2017 with.

There's still a lot of offseason to go, but after the Phillies' Carlos Santana signing and Stage 1 of the latest Marlins fire sale, the Phils on paper measure up well with the other three teams in the division.

There still could be a trade in the Phillies' near future that turns an outfielder into a starting pitcher. If the Phils didn't have such a glaring need for starting pitching, one could see them entering 2017 with all three of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr in addition to LF Rhys Hoskins and figuring out the playing time based on hot/cold streaks and injuries. That need for arms to fill out the rotation, though, makes a trade more likely.

Knowing what we know now, let's take a trip around the NL East, excluding the clear favorites in Washington. This takes into account projected opening day lineups as of the first week of January. The Mets, for example, have Michael Conforto coming off shoulder surgery and Steven Matz recovering from elbow surgery. Neither is likely for the start of the season.

Phillies: 1B Carlos Santana, 2B Cesar Hernandez, SS J.P. Crawford, 3B Maikel Franco

Braves: 1B Freddie Freeman, 2B Ozzie Albies, SS Dansby Swanson, 3B Johan Camargo

Marlins: 1B Justin Bour, 2B Starlin Castro, SS J.T. Riddle, 3B Brian Anderson

Mets: 1B Dom Smith, 2B Wilmer Flores, SS Amed Rosario, 3B Asdrubal Cabrera

Freeman is by far the best player among these 16. Santana is next.

The Phillies have the best infield of this quartet, with above-average on-base skills at three positions and power at two. 

Phillies: CF Odubel Herrera, LF Rhys Hoskins, RF Nick Williams/Aaron Altherr

Braves: CF Ender Inciarte, LF Nick Markakis, RF Ronald Acuña

Marlins: CF Christian Yelich, LF Martin Prado, RF Derek Dietrich

Mets: CF Juan Lagares, LF Yoenis Cespedes, RF Brandon Nimmo

The Marlins have the best centerfielder.

The Mets have the best leftfielder (though Hoskins could have something to say about that in Year 2).

Right field is between the Phillies and Braves. Acuña is a very intriguing 20-year-old who hit .325 with 21 homers, 31 doubles and 44 steals last season across the three highest minor-league levels.

In totality ... again, you have to give this edge to the Phillies. On-base skills at two of three outfield positions and power at two. 

Phillies: Jorge Alfaro/Cameron Rupp/Andrew Knapp

Braves: Tyler Flowers

Marlins: J.T. Realmuto

Mets: Travis d'Arnaud

Realmuto is the stud of this group, an underrated catcher who's hit .290/.337/.440 the last two seasons with averages of 31 doubles and 14 homers. He also has good wheels for a catcher. He or Yelich would be next if the Marlins make another trade.

Alfaro has potential but a lot to prove, offensively and defensively. Still, he's not far behind the injury-prone d'Arnaud or longtime backup Flowers.

Phillies: Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively

Braves: Julio Teheran, Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir

Marlins: Dan Straily, Wei-Yin Chen, Jose Ureña, Dillon Peters, Justin Nicolino

Mets: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo

First off, I'd be shocked if that is the Phillies' opening day starting rotation. At the very least, they'll grab one veteran with a better short-term upside than Pivetta or Lively.

Second ... this is clearly a drastic edge to the Mets. Everything — everything — went wrong for their pitching staff last season.

If the Phils add a decent No. 2 or No. 3 starter, they'd be on par with the Braves. Atlanta has more proven commodities, but let's not act like McCarthy or Kazmir are locks to make even 25 starts.

Bullpen (key arms only)
: Hector Neris, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Luis Garcia

Braves: Arodys Vizcaino, Jose Ramirez

Marlins: Brad Ziegler, Kyle Barraclough

Mets: Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Anthony Swarzak, Jerry Blevins

Advantage goes to the Phillies after the offseason additions of Hunter and Neshek, two solid setup men you can pencil in for ERAs between 2.00 and 3.00. With the emergence of Garcia, the Phillies have a strong core four in the bullpen. They just still need a good lefty. (Can Adam Morgan carry a strong second half into 2018?)

The Mets have a solid back-end with Familia and Ramos, but the bullpens of the Braves and Marlins will likely struggle this season.

• • •

The Phillies' additions of Santana, Hunter and Neshek make a ton of sense when you look at the non-Nationals landscape of the NL East and consider the number of games there to be won — 57 in total against the Braves, Marlins and Mets.

The Phils went 39-37 against the division last season. That number should grow closer to the mid-40s in 2018.

Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

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Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

Teams all over baseball, including the Phillies, are ready to pounce on a bevy of young international talent that became available Tuesday.

Major League Baseball punished the Atlanta Braves for a host of international signing violations by stripping the club of 13 minor-league prospects (see story). MLB also banished former Braves general manager John Coppolella from working in the game for life.

In the summer of 2016, MLB found the Boston Red Sox in violation of international signing rules and stripped that club of five international prospects. Included in that group was Simon Muzziotti, an outfielder from Venezuela. The Red Sox had initially signed Muzziotti for $300,000 in 2015. He was declared a free agent a year later and the Phillies swooped in and signed him for $750,000. Now 18, Muzziotti played for the Phillies' Gulf Coast League team in 2017.

The list of players set free on Tuesday includes 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who received a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2016. Six other players that received signing bonuses of $1 million or more were also set free. The group includes Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who received a $3.53 million bonus and Dominican infielder Yunior Severino, who received a $1.9 million bonus.

The Phillies are well positioned to make a run at some of these new international free agents and past practice says they will. The club added to its current international signing pool in a couple of trades last summer and has about $900,000 remaining. More money can be acquired in trades and applied to the current pool. A team can also use money from next year's pool — that market opens in July — to sign a player, though those funds cannot be used to augment the current pool.

Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani is the prize of this winter's international market. While the deep-pocketed Phillies have interest in Otani, he is subject to international signing bonus rules and pool limits. Translation: Signing him is not simply a matter of being the highest bidder. The team that gets Otani will likely be a contender in win-now mode with a history of signing Japanese talent. An American League club that could offer Otani at-bats (he wants to hit, as well as pitch) would be the best fit.

So, the Phillies' international splash this winter could come from the fallout of the Braves' signing controversy.

The former Braves' prospects are eligible to begin signing with new clubs on Dec. 5. They are:

Kevin Maitan, SS
Juan Contreras, RHP
Yefri del Rosario, RHP
Abrahan Gutierrez, C
Juan Carlos Negret, OF
Yenci Pena, SS
Yunior Severino, 2B
Livan Soto, SS
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP
Brandol Mezquita, OF
Angel Rojas, SS
Antonio Sucre, OF
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS