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Billy Vargus: Wrong about Hunter Pence, but right about Eagles' linebackers

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V for Victory with Billy VargusBilly V

"SOMETIMES I'M RIGHT..BUT I CAN BE WRONG

MY OWN BELIEFS ARE IN MY SONG

....I AM EVERYDAY PEOPLE    - Sly and the Family Stone

I CAN BE WRONG:  

Boy, was I wrong about Hunter Pence. Not that I had any problem with the Phillies making the trade to acquire him; to the contrary, on August 3rd, a few days after the Phillies acquired him, I wrote that Phils GM Ruben Amaro had made a good move:

"Now That He’s Here, the Lineup Is  Much More Even Handed
 
He Plays Hard, But I have to Say This..And I’m Just Being Candid
 
He’s A Decent Hitter Yes,  But Hey.. He Ain’t No Babe Ruth
 
He’s Good Not Great ..I'm Not Trying To Hate,  But That’s The Simple Truth "

In reality, the simple truth is that he's been great. All of my saber metric analysis showing that his batting average was sure to come down proved to be a lot of hogwash. Instead of going down, it's gone up, from .308 to .313. He hit 7 homers in August  (after only 2 in July), and many of his hits were critical to helping the Phils win games. 

In September, he's slowed down, with only 2 homers this month, but his return from a mild knee strain could help the Phillies get out of their present funk and back on track for the playoffs.

Speaking of which, manager Charlie Manuel feels confident the team will get it together. The Phillies current 5 game slide coincides with their clinching of home field advantage for the playoffs, and former players who know better than I say, "Yes, it is possible to turn it back on when the games count again."  

My concern is that the Phils sudden drop off is not necessarily the result of relaxing after clinching. Several key players were mired in slumps even before the clinch-and-slide occurred. Colleague Joe Vallee points out in his article  that Chase Utley is hitting under .200 for the month of September. Since (and not including) the night the Phils made the trade for Pence, Utley has homered just twice.

That was July 29th.  

Utley’s average has gone down 31 points since then. Normally, even if his average is down, his ability to get on base is a plus. But after drawing 10 walks in both June and July, it dropped to 7 in August and just 3 this month.

But Utley's drop off is actually not as bad as that of Shane Victorino, who came into September batting .316 and plunged 37 points.

Placido Polanco has hit one homer in the entire month. Maybe they'll pick it up over the final 6 games, or the light will somehow come on when the playoffs begin.  But more likely, the Phillies will go only as far as their pitching staff takes them.

SOMETIMES I'M RIGHT:  

At least I was pretty much on target with my pre-season evaluation of the Eagles. I criticized coach Andy Reid for applying his "pass-first, pass always" offensive philosophy to his defense, too, as indicated by his acquisition of cornerbacks and pass-rushers while  failing to add any size of experience to his linebacking corps.

On September 9th I wrote:

"On opening day, the Eagles will have to stop Steven Jackson, who weighs in at 236 pounds, although age and injuries are catching up to him."  

That line proved especially telling when Jackson ran for a 47 yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball, but came out with an injury after his 2nd carry. Backup Cadillac Williams did well, rushing for 91 yards on 19 carries, but Jackson's injury may have affected the outcome of the game.

In that same preseason analysis, I wrote:

"(Atlanta's) power back, Michael Turner, is listed at 247 pounds, which means he's bigger than any linebacker on the Eagles roster.  You would've thought that the ineffectiveness of so many 230 pound linebackers of the past...would've taught the Eagles that their affinity for small, quick LB's instead of big strong ones is not a good idea."

For three quarters, it seemed as though the Eagles would prove me wrong, as they did a decent job on Turner. But when it counted most, Turner broke free, the Falcons marched downfield late in the 4th quarter, putting together a 6 play drive that included 4 running plays for 76 yards, capping it with the final, game-winning burst to the end zone by Turner.

The Eagles have subsequently announced a re-shuffling of the linebacking corps, with the vastly undersized Casey Matthews moving to the spot normally played by the smallest guy, the WILL, and Jamar Chaney moving from SAM to MIKE.  Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney. Photo: www.sportsbully.comWhich only caused everyone to wonder why they didn't start the season that way, especially since the MIKE calls the formations, and Chaney has a year of experience under his belt, unlike the rookie Matthews.

Of course, the question of whether Michael Vick will be able to bounce back from the concussion he suffered in that game to play overshadows everything else about Sunday's game against the New York Giants. But the ability to stop the Giants’ running game will again be a big factor.  

Again, it's the big body that gives the Eagles trouble, and Brandon Jacobs has a 4.1 career average against  them, including a game three years ago when he carried 22 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns.  

The Eagles have usually had good success against Ahmad Bradshaw, holding the Giants smaller back to a career 3.4 yard per attempt average against them.  He's the starter now and maybe the Giants will do the Eagles a favor and keep him on the field most of the time.

Billy Vargus is an Emmy Award Winner for Best Sports Anchor for 2008 and 2009. (Mid-Atlantic region, covering all of Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware.) Bill has been a TV sports anchor in the Philadelphia area for 18 years with the last 12 coming at Fox 29. He’s also had stops at Channel 10, Channel 12, plus at other television markets around the country.He has also served as the pre-game host for all Seventy-Sixers games in the past and also has acted in films, TV shows and commercials.

Billy V can be contacted at billv@philly2philly.com

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