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The SportsTalk Shop: All-Star Football Preview

June 25, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

This Thursday marks the official end to the 2013-14 scholastic sports calendar year—the McDonald’s All-Star High School Football Game–played each year at Nazareth’s Andrew Leh Stadium. It is a special time as we honor our local gridiron stars one final time (for those not playing at the collegiate level) and the event raises money for a great cause.

While football is extremely competitive in the Eastern Pennsylvania region, this game is special because it showcases talented athletes one more time and, in many cases, makes long-time rivals, teammates. The one reoccurring comment that I hear year after year about this game is the memories that are created by playing in this contest. By combining one team’s great players with another’s great players, they have an opportunity to truly admire each other’s talents, can talk about how they gained their skills and share stories from their high school careers. There are many friendships forged during the weeks leading up to this game, and many student-athletes enjoy the on-field banter that takes place with new teammates. Friendships also develop with the players they are playing against for this game—sometimes facing athletes they have never had a chance to see up-close-and-personal during their careers.

For many athletes, it can be a sacrifice…giving up your first few weeks of summer vacation or summer college prep classes, practicing in pads and equipment in 90-degree heat, getting yelled at by coaches (although not nearly as loud as in the fall) when you run the wrong play in practice, et al. But to a man, I’ve never heard any athlete say that he did not enjoy participating in this event.

Here are a few thoughts from the participating coaches and players on how they’ll approach this year’s contest, and then I have a few areas to concentrate on for the game itself.

As far as the actual game, keep an eye on the quarterbacks in this year’s contest. I remember two years ago when a group of talented QBs like Nosovitch, Harding and the like all graduated, there was one sports columnist who said that the passing ability would dip a bit. But I remember seeing young players, then sophomores, with amazing potential and a number of those athletes developed into outstanding quarterbacks in their own right. The All-Star game’s rules usually lend themselves to helping a passing attack, but I think some of these signal-callers have something to prove and will want to air it out one more time on a local stage.

Also, keep an eye on the center of both team’s defenses. While sometimes undermentioned by us in the media, there were some outstanding defensive tackles, middle linebackers and safeties this past football season—and not just at the big schools. Palisades, Southern Lehigh and Catty, to name a few, had some of their top defensive players—EVER—in the school’s history. While the smaller schools sometimes get outshined in terms of publicity, this Thursday will be an excellent time to showcase all the tremendous defensive players in the Eastern Pennsylvania region.

What other players and positions will you be watching for Thursday’s game? Who do you think will win? Send us your comments to and tune in Thursday’s live at 6pm as we talk local sports issues with you!


The SportsTalk Shop: The New “EPC”

June 19, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

I would like to put in my one-and-a-half cents on the biggest high school sports story this month in the Lehigh Valley area. The merger between the “Lehigh Valley Conference” and the “Mountain Valley” conference to form the new “Eastern Pennsylvania Conference” or “EPC 18” for short, is a major accomplishment. I present in today’s blog a few opinions of my own, along with reactions from the new league’s administrators and local sports personalities.

Here are a few of the highlights of the EPC 18:
• 3 divisions for “most” sports (one division with teams from the old MVC, a 2nd division with Allen, Dieruff, Becahi, Freedom, Liberty and Easton and a 3rd division with the remaining “LVC” teams)
• 8 teams qualifying for “most” sports’ playoffs (3 division winners & next 5 teams w/best div. records). Seeding for these playoffs will be based solely on best division records (ie, a division winner is not guaranteed one of the top three “seeds”)
• Football is split into 2 divisions (one is the old MVC schools, plus Allen, Dieruff, Becahi) with two “cross-over” games with the other division
• Football will have 2 winners (one from each division); there will be no “conference champion”
• Wrestling with have a “three-tier” system and teams’ status will be recalculated each year based on the previous year’s success
• Sports with fewer participating schools will have adjusted divisions, playoff schedules and formats

First a few of the positives.
There is clearly no perfect way to align all the schools and their sports teams together, but the league organizers have been successful in many ways trying to balance the league as much as possible. I am encouraged by some of the non-athletic programs, among them one spearheaded by Nazareth’s Rusty Amato, to be included in the new league. Since the MVC was facing an uncertain future with just six teams potentially entering the 2014 school year, this merger definitely helps those schools maintain a solid sports schedule going forward. And, contrary to some people’s views in the Lehigh Valley area, there are a number of high quality sports programs from the Poconos and it will not be a ‘cake walk’ to play against all the teams from the former-MVC. I think the Pocono schools that have struggled against the Lehigh Valley teams in the past will benefit and continue to improve by being a member of this conference.

My biggest concern is that the attendance at high school sporting events–which appears to be declining in some districts in recent years–may suffer. There’s no question a Whitehall/Becahi football game or a Nazareth/Easton baseball contest (which will not happen in 2015) would draw more interest than, say Becahi’s football team playing East Stroudsburg-North. For “big games” or come playoff time, it may be harder for parents and fans to travel from one extreme area—geographically speaking—to attend the event at the opposite end of the conference’s territory. Also, and this pertains mostly to football, you lose the option of playing a school from outside the district during the regular season. Coaches would use this opportunity to travel to a different venue or give players a chance to see a different style of play—something that would help a program that has state playoff aspirations.

Plus, I don’t see how prior concerns of an “uneven playing field”–justified or not–will be solved solely based on the new league concept. However, with the dawn of the new era and a regenerated feeling of good-will in the sports community, one can hope past issues will not resurface.

League scheduler and long time sports administrator Mike Schneider told me that he feels the griping over the travel concerns is overrated and I trust he’ll be correct. After all, it is true that many Lehigh Valley schools already play teams from the Poconos as part of their non-conference schedule. I do feel there could be some issues because of the weather. While games scheduled in the southern, slightly warmer regions have a better chance to get played, the games to be played up north are more likely to be postponed, which may force a tougher playing schedule for some teams. Also, many Mountain Valley schools are going until June 25th or later for their school year, which could cause scheduling nightmares for athletic directors. However, the officials in our area have done tremendous work coordinating events around postponements (this past year is an excellent example) and I’m confident they’ll overcome any logistical issues that may arise due to postponements.

Here are some additional thoughts and reactions about the EPC 18 from local personalities (additional interviews and details are available by viewing our June 5th edition of “RCN SportsTalk” through Video-on-Demand):

There have been a long line of bad feelings expressed between certain sports programs and school districts…wounds I am hopeful that will heal in time. I am cautious, but very optimistic about the new EPC. I am excited for the opportunity to become more familiar with all the players, coaches and administrators from our neighboring schools to the north and am anxious for the fall 2014 sports season to get underway. I also wish all involved a very pleasant and restful summer season. I think the region’s athletic directors certainly deserve one!

What are your thoughts on the “new” EPC? What do you feel are the positives and negatives of the merger? Post a comment here or email us at and we’ll be sure to talk about the new league throughout the 2014-15 school year.


The SportsTalk Shop: Ways to Fix the Phillies

June 9, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Last week I gave my trimester grades on a season-gone-wrong for the Phillies through the first two months of the season. Today we take a look at how the team should proceed from here:

1) Trade AT LEAST one of the core players
I know this will be extremely painful to the Phillies front office to part ways with one of their most marketable players, but it has to happen. The Phillies have to change the mentality and the look of this franchise and show everyone – the fans, the community and the players themselves – that no one is untouchable. The debate over trading Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Marlon Byrd and others is gaining the momentum of a runaway freight train. The Phillies should be open to seeing which of these players would bring you the greatest return value for next year and pull the trigger on a deal. You need to improve this team in multiple ways, and with very few minor league options on the horizon, the only way to start accomplishing this is by dealing a major piece NOW.

2) Acquire a “dirt-baller”
Think Larry Bowa, Pete Rose or more recently, a Randy Ready or an Aaron Rowand. A high-energy guy, perhaps not the greatest talent, but someone who understands the game and will play it the right way. I’m not a big fan of the “WAR” statistic (wins-above-replacement), but those numbers do have some merit. You need to bring people that will help you find ways to win ball games and the Phillies need to find players who at least have a positive number in that category (eg., Ben Revere has a -0.4 WAR as of last week, Cesar Hernandez a -0.6, Tony Gwynn Jr. is a -0.8, Dom Brown is a -1). Each season the St. Louis Cardinals have rosters littered with players who know how to play the game and execute the fundamentals. I’m hard pressed to find very many younger players on the Phillies’ current 25-man roster who have shown the ability to do the same, and someone must be brought in to start doing that.

3) Stop evaluating with rose-collared glasses
John Mayberry, Jr. last year had a WAR of -1.2 and the organization REWARDED him with a near $ 1.1 million raise. He’s had three different seasons to prove himself as a starting outfielder, a platoon outfielder, than a fourth outfielder, a capable pinch-hitter…and has not delivered in any of these roles on a consistent basis (despite a dismal first eight weeks, Mayberry fans would argue he’s deserved more money based on the red-hot June he’s having offensively). The Phillies say Darin Ruf is not an everyday player…fine, then show me a young player who is. Sticking with Revere, Brown and the like when you no longer have reasons to believe in these players is fool’s gold that the team has continued to purchase for three years now.

4) Stop tolerating mental mistakes
Jimmy Rollins made a innocent comment about preseason games being meaningless and he was benched three days IN SPRING TRAINING. If Mayberry can’t shag a fly ball against the fence, then don’t put him out there anymore until he can. If Revere doesn’t remember to tag up on a fly ball with less than two outs or isn’t taking the appropriate lead off a base, then bench ‘em, outright ‘em or option them to Triple-A. Granted, there’s not many major league available players waiting in the wings right now, but giving these guys repeated chances and watching them fail multiple times with mental lapses is not working. I’d rather see Triple-A players Steve Susdorf or Clete Thomas try to fight their way to remain on the big league roster than to see listless players (Brown) not running hard to first base.

There’s another issue to address here: Ruben Amaro, Jr. The current Phillies general manager is pretty much in a no-win scenario, of which he is responsible for creating. If he conducts a massive fire-sale over the next two months, he’s admitting that his five-year plan of sustaining what was a World Series contender has failed miserably, thereby inviting a changing of the guard to take place. If he does nothing, or next to nothing, during the next few weeks, then he could be fired for not being proactive in correcting this out-of-control team. There’s no easy road here and accomplishing the above-listed tasks will not be easily achieved mid-season, but actions must start coming…and soon.

I do believe Amaro’s hands were tied somewhat in trying to rebuild this team a few years ago. Remember that in 2011 Ruben stated that the team needed to take a different direction: produce more runs, work counts, play more fundamentally sound baseball and similar comments. The moves that have transpired since that time are mostly contrary to that belief. Like him or not (and I certainly have not agreed with very many of his decisions over the last three years), Amaro is still an intelligent man with a solid baseball background. I don’t believe he completely gutted this team without outside influence, whether it be pressure to keep popular players in town, bad advice on player evaluations, poor scouting reports, or a combination of all three.

Full disclosure: I backed Amaro when he was making the trades for Lee, Doc Halladay, Hunter Pence, et al, while ravishing what top prospects were a part of the system. I don’t believe I was the only one in the Delaware Valley that enthusiastically bought in to the ‘win now’ mantra and threw caution to the wind when making those deals. I remember the euphoria that ensued when the cash vault was opened and we woke up hearing of Lee’s triumphant return to the Phillies. We all salivated over the “Four Aces” rotation during the thrill ride that garnished 102 regular season wins, and no one back then was worried about Jonathon Singleton, Kyle Drabek and the other prospects exiled to acquire those major chips. I for one was prepared to sacrifice several years of bad baseball for one more World Series championship….a second title that never materialized.

What in-season moves to you think the Phillies should (or will) make this summer? Do you think Amaro will be retained or even make it through the 2014 season? Post a comment below or email us at We’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s Phillies team.

The SportsTalk Shop: Phillies 1/3 Season Report Card

June 3, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

OK, Ruben. You didn’t listen to me. Nor did you listen to most Phillies fans when it came to our free advice on how we could bring the team back to playoff contention…or even recapture our interest in the club.

But before the season spirals out of control even further, I’m going to offer my unsolicited critique on this year’s team to Ruben Amaro, the Phillies General Manager. Forget the mid-term grades – we need a comprehensive analysis here at the one-third mark of the regular season–before it is too late and 2014 turns into a complete waste of a baseball campaign. So today I’ll evaluate the best and worst points of the Phillies this year and have broken down the players into the following categories. Next week I’ll be back with my suggestions on where the team should go from here.

Despite the poor record, there are several strong positives on this year’s team. Relievers Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Mario Hollands and Jake Diekman each have had a few unforgettably bad moments during this very forgettable season. Aside from that, they have been nearly as good as one could have asked. Papelbon has been lights-out as the team’s closer and looks like a shoo-in to make the All-Star team after the team spent a good chunk of time this past winter trying to unload him. Overall, Adams and Diekman have been very steady middle-to-late-inning guys, getting called in to extinguish opponents’ rallies. In addition, Diekman, along with Hollands, who most people knew nothing about at the beginning of spring training, have served as useful two-inning bridges in several Phillies’ wins in getting the team to Papelbon. Both Hollands and Diekman can be counted on as two of the few reliable young arms going forward, and Adams and Papelbon both could be used in trades if this season continues to unravel (again, more on that in next week’s blog entry).

Fans also have to be happy with what they have gotten out of Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Utley has been leading the league in doubles and, as of this past weekend, was on a pace to set a new Major League record for a season. Rollins is closing in on the Phillies’ all-time hit record and has kept his on-base percentage around or above .350 all season. While most people were not impressed with the Byrd signing in December, he has been one of the most consistent bats on an incredibly inconsistent offensive team, and has certainly added respectability with his defense in right field.

A.J. Burnett was a guy I was hoping they’d sign this off-season and, although they waited until the outset of spring training to do so, has filled in the “number 3” spot quite nicely. He hasn’t been stellar nor consistent in every start this year, but has been solid enough to balance this rotation and make the starting pitching staff one of the strengths of this year’s team.

Also, for a number-five starter, I have to give solid marks to Roberto Hernandez, a player I quite honestly wasn’t expecting much out of this season. With an ERA under 4.00 and the flexibility to come out of the bullpen in a pinch, this is a move that you actually have to give Amaro and Company credit for. I’ll also put Wil Nieves in this class and give a definite “B” for his efforts. In addition to admirably filling in behind the plate and hitting over .275 so far, his greatest attribute may be that he has adequately filled in the backup catcher’s spot, deflecting attention from another trade gone south that sent previous number-two catcher Eric Kratz and a minor league reliever to Toronto for Brad Lincoln (see below).

I have to be honest – I’m a big fan of Chooch, but was frankly expecting more out of Carlos Ruiz than one home run, 10 RBIs and a slugging percentage lower than Nieves’, his backup (through June 2nd). While his on-base percentage is leading the team, I am disappointed at a number of bad pitch selections he has made this year. With all the young arms coming out of the pen, I have to place the blame on the experienced Ruiz for not taking charge and for making some questionable calls behind the dish. I had defended the Phillies signing this 35-year old catcher to a three-year deal, largely in part due to his ability to handle pitchers behind the plate. A little better offense and a few less mistakes in pitch selection might have helped the Phillies have a better shot at being closer to .500 than they are presently.

I’ll also put Kyle Kendrick, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in this category. While they have had moderate-to-very-good success on the hill this year and each deserves a few more wins, they each have had meltdowns at inopportune times—and a team like this year’s Phillies club that needs everything to go right to contend, can’t afford to have mental lapses. I’ve seen each of these players make base running errors and/or pitiful attempts at laying down bunts which, for the money they’re making, is inexcusable.

One may put Ben Revere in a “failing” category but honestly, why would anyone expect him to be anything more than what he has shown throughout his career? He’s a slap hitter with excellent speed who will steal bases when he gets on and will provide some highlight film material with great catches in the outfield. He also has no arm, is prone to base running and route-taking mistakes and has never shown the ability to work a count or coax walks. Revere showed these traits in Minnesota and again last year in Philadelphia. This brings me to my biggest, most grating issue with the Phillies—why do you expect something from players when there’s no evidence to suggest a result different from what you’ve been getting? It’s been a reoccurring issue for three years now and, in my opinion, will continue until the team takes a more practical approach to building a team.

Despite the fact that Ryan Howard provided one of the top moments of the season—a walk-off home-run against Colorado last week, there are 25 million reasons why he has not lived up to his weighty contract. While his defense has improved, he came into this season as the single-most important offensive player who needed to play like he did before signing the massive contract extension. Despite his team-leading home run and RBI totals, his inability to have success off of left-handed pitching is becoming alarming. Since 2011 in now more than 250 at-bats against southpaws, he strikes out a whopping 43% of the time. Mix in Howard’s paltry .301 OBP and .434 SLG versus all pitchers and you’re left with the fact that he is just not the power-hitting force he once was. Again, if there were other players around him to pick up the slack—or if other more potent bats were acquired this past offseason, his weaknesses would not be as glaring. But since so much of this season’s potential was based on Howard’s return to being one of the most powerful bats in all of baseball—rightly or wrongly—his performance this year can only be considered slightly above failure.

One more time, for the Phillies to expect miracles from the likes of Dom Brown, Antonio Bastardo, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernadez, John Mayberry Jr. and count on these guys doing something beyond what they’ve never consistently done before are Amaro’s biggest gaffes as the GM. For the last five years, we’ve hear it said that it’s time for guys to step up, and five years later, we’re still looking for guys to do so in right field, left field, the bullpen, the bench and now, third base. Bastardo and Galvis had quality campaigns going in 2013 before drug suspensions ended their season and called into question just how natural their successes were. None of these players has stepped in to grab the opportunities presented to them and, for most of these players, one could argue no one should count on them any longer.

Jayson Nix, Shawn Camp, Luis Garcia, Jeff Manship (prior to this past weekend’s Mets series), Brad Lincoln, Phillippe Aumont…OK I’ll stop here before you get too depressed.

While Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, Miguel Alfredo Gonzales, Jonathan Pettibone and Ethan Martin were players looked at having key spots on the team early in spring training–and may or may not hold a larger role in the Phillies future–I don’t think you can critically analyze the performances of these players thus far because of the injuries they’ve sustained.

What areas do you think need the most improvement? What other glimmers of sunlight do you see from this disappointing season-to-date? Post your comments below or email us at and check back here as I outline my plan on what I feel the next steps should be for the Phillies this season.


The SportsTalk Shop: Spring Volleyball Accomplishments

May 27, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

While I know there are some wonderful aspects of sports that have changed, and not for the better, there are also tremendous improvements that have taken place. One of them is the development of high school volleyball in Pennsylvania.

I remember when I was in high school (slightly after the advent of electricity), the governing sports body in Pennsylvania, the PIAA, sanctioned volleyball as an official sport. Watching the first official volleyball games being played was exciting and fun. However, it was clearly not at the level that it’s reached today. With off-season camps, feeder systems and JV programs, and most of those being very successful in local school districts in the RCN viewing area, the quality of play is amazing. This was clearly evident last week when I attended the District XI boys volleyball semifinals.

Here are just some of the video highlights and post-match reactions from the participants (you can see more great plays and interviews on “RCN SportsTalk” through RCN’s On-Demand services).

In the first match, Northampton jumped up two games to none on the three-time defending champion Emmaus team, only to have the Hornets storm back and sting the Konkrete Kids in five sets. The final two sets were a back-and-forth struggle and featured some key saves by Greg Lind (31 digs total), who also had to bounce back from an injury sustained mid-match. The battle also featured Northampton’s Mike Holihan, who clearly showed why he was the LVC’s MVP this year, and also exhibited a dynamic and entertaining presence out on the court.

In the second match, Parkland jumped out to a 2-0 advantage themselves before Easton stepped up their game and won the third set. Loren Skinker and Tyler Phifer were just two of the Trojan players who stepped up with some big plays throughout their contest with the Red Rovers. Parkland came back strong with three different three-set runs to win the fourth and final set. Parkland would go on to beat Emmaus in the district championship match in straight sets after dropping the opening set.

The Easton volleyball program deserves some credit for its success this year as well. They rebounded from a 3-17 season a year ago and were picked in one preseason prediction to finish dead-last in their division. The Rovers showed character all season and gave Parkland a very strong battle in the semifinal nightcap.

Both Parkland and Emmaus now advance to the PIAA state playoffs, where it is no longer uncommon to see our local teams fare well on the statewide stage. In fact, there have been several local girls and boys volleyball teams winning state titles over the past decade. With so many outstanding up-and-coming volleyball players in the Eastern Pennsylvania region, it’s a trend not likely to change anytime soon.

What other aspects of sports have dramatically improved over the last 10 to 15 years? Which sports programs and athletes do you feel deserve some extra attention? Post your opinions below or email us at and join us as we continue to spotlight the bright young athletes in the RCN-TV viewing area.


The SportsTalk Shop: The Three Big Pigs

May 19, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment


There were three rather “big-named” baseball players who recently came to the Lehigh Valley to play for the ‘Pigs—the Phillies’ Triple-A minor league affiliate. I had a chance to catch up with two Phillies players who were looking to work their way back to the Major Leagues, and one talented and much publicized young prospect who is anxious for his first taste with the parent club.

Here are some sound bites from Phillies outfielder Darin Ruf and pitchers Ethan Martin and Ken Giles, and then the latest insights on when each of these players might see action in Philadelphia.

Now the latest insights on all three players.

Darin Ruf
While he admitted that he was not quite ready to return to the big leagues, there might be other factors in play that force the Phillies to bring Ruf up sooner rather than later.

First, the Phillies offense has been abysmal and two of the offensive areas where the team has struggled the most—first base and left field—are the two positions Ruf plays. Ruf could spell Ryan Howard and Dom Brown at least once a week each while adding some right-handed pop into the Phillies lackluster lineup. What was interesting to me was that Ruf told me he has not played ANY right field so far in any of his appearances nor has even shagged fly balls out there in warm-ups. With center fielder Ben Revere and backups Tony Gwynn and John Mayberry Jr. struggling mightily, you would think an option—at least for a few games a week—would be to start Ruf in right field and move Marlon Byrd to center. However, with so much riding on this season, the Phillies will soon be going into panic mode if their offense doesn’t improve against someone other than the Reds. Ruf seems to be one of the few in-house options the organization has to offer. As long as he keeps hitting the ball with authority at Triple-A, expect to see Ruf promoted in the very near future.

Ethan Martin
This flame-throwing right-hander looked to be a big key in what has become the weakest part of the Phillies team—the bullpen. His injury in spring training was a major blow to the franchise, and his lack of velocity would be a major concern if it doesn’t return to reaching the mid- to upper-90s as it did a year ago. The fact that Martin said he “felt good” so far in his rehab assignment is a positive. His velocity appears to be increasing with each outing, but it looks as if Martin is still a few more weeks away from moving up to the Phillies.

Ken Giles
With the Phillies bullpen in desperate need of a strikeout pitcher, fans in the Delaware Valley have gone “ga-ga” over this right-hander, whose fast ball has topped out at 102 mph in Reading. While his arm is impressive and his slider has looked good so far this season, he clearly needs at least a few more weeks of minor league seasoning. He has gotten batters to swing over his slider, and most opposing hitters are having trouble picking up the difference between his two pitches. The real test is how Giles performs on days where his command is lacking and to see how he responds when it does. Remember, he had a high “WHIP” and an ERA over 6.00 last season. The Phillies want to see this young phenom to continue to show consistency. If he does, he could be promoted to the parent club as early as mid-June.

A few other notes
After a rocky start to the season and a demotion to Triple-A, Phillies right-handed reliever Justin DeFratus has been throwing the ball better than anyone on the team right now. He has been moved to the IronPigs’ closer spot in the bullpen, but told me that he would feel comfortable pitching multiple innings—which would likely be his immediate role if he’s promoted to the big club. If any pitcher is promoted to Philadelphia over the next week or so, my money would be on DeFratus, as he looks more “major league” ready than anyone else on the staff right now.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez has seen a spike in his velocity while pitching down in Clearwater for the Phillies Single-A team, and could be moved up to a higher level over the next month. While the Phillies have invested three years and $15 million in Gonzalez and are trying not to rush him back, they desperately need him to show something positive in year one of his contract. He could be a candidate to help out in the bullpen in the season’s second half.

Should two or three of the above names, say DeFratus, Giles and/or Martin, continue improving the way they have been over the last ten days in Triple-A, it would certainly help the Phillies’ ailing bullpen and give Manager Ryne Sandberg a couple viable right-handed options in bridging the starters to the later-innings relievers.

Which player are you most anxious to see wear a Phillies uniform? Do you think the team can stay in the race long enough to get some of these “powered-arm” relievers up to the Majors to help improve arguably the team’s weakest link (along with an inconsistent offense) this year? Post a comment below or email me at as we continue to follow the Phillies this spring.

The SportsTalk Shop: LVC Baseball Preview

May 12, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

After a challenging start to the spring sports season thanks to some horrendous weather-related conditions, we’ve reach the first round of the playoffs. RCN-TV will once again broadcast this year’s Lehigh Valley Conference playoffs, which commence on Tuesday at 4:30pm.

To get you ready for what promises to be some exciting contests, we’ll take a look at all four teams involved in the LVC post-season. First, here are thoughts from the coaches and managers of the first three teams to clinch playoff berths early this past week (more is available from last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show through On-Demand).

Now, here’s more on the four teams in action this week.

The Hurricanes were the last team to qualify for the playoffs late last week but it definitely was not due to a lack of talent. Because of unplayable field conditions early this spring and the well-publicized lockdown due to the phony bomb threat, Liberty has had to play more games over the last few weeks than any other team in the league. They also had three other ultra-competitive teams in their division. Liberty is loaded with offensive talent that has really been warming up of late; in a recent game against Nazareth, seven of their nine starters had at least two hits. Playing so many games in a short amount of time might actually help Liberty in playing back-to-back games next week. With the offense hitting so well and getting more than capable pitching from Mike Horvath, Alexis Calderon and Matt Leon, the ‘Canes might just earn their way to the championship game.

After graduating several talented seniors one year ago, many of the local baseball experts thought it would be a rebuilding year for the Zephyrs.

They were wrong.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Parkland (whom they lost to twice), they might have the best record in the league. Instead, they enter as the number-3 seed and, sure enough, will face Parkland in the opening round. They got a bit of a wake-up call after barely beating Allen two weeks ago, and have responded with several quality wins over the last week—including a 4-2 decision over a talented Northampton ball club this past Thursday. They have three quality starting pitchers, play excellent defense (especially up the middle) and have a great balance of speed and power in their lineup. Keep an eye on freshman Alex Bruneio—in addition to being a tough left-handed reliever who has been used in key spots this year, he also has power to all fields and is not afraid to hit the ball where it’s pitched. He’ll be a player to watch in the playoffs–and for the next three years–for Whitehall.

The Trojans have battled back nicely from a mid-season swoon, in which they lost three consecutive games. They also bounced back from a tough 2-1 loss to Emmaus last Monday, in which the potential tying run was erased in a rundown while in scoring position to end the contest. Chris Rabasco (verbally committed to Penn) has been on fire at the plate and is exceptional at hitting balls into the gaps. Gabe Mosser (headed to Shippensburg this fall) has been pitching lights-out baseball; going into last Thursday’s game, he had struck out 56 batters in under 34-innings thrown. Furthermore, according to WHS Skipper Shaun O’Boyle, Mosser (6-1, .76 ERA this season) has pitched successfully against Whitehall six consecutive times over the last few seasons. I checked with Trojan Manager Tony Galucy on who would start for him against the Zephyrs and he was noncommittal for Tuesday’s game, but it will be interesting to see if he throws his hottest pitching in game one—and if Mosser could beat Whitehall one more time.

The Hornets have bounced back from their only loss of the season to Easton, including impressive wins over Central Catholic and Parkland over the last few days. When I spoke with some of the Emmaus players last week, they were not happy about the loss to the Rovers and will be using that as motivation as the playoffs start. As usual, Emmaus has several talented pitchers—both right-handed and left-handed—to stifle offenses, and I was impressed by senior southpaw Jack Moore’s near-shutout performance against the Trojans last week. Josh Lemaster (who will pitch for DeSales next year) has also pitched extremely effectively this season (6-0, 61-strikeouts, 0.41-ERA) and I think he’s another candidate to pitch in the Hornets’ first playoff game. Plus, Emmaus has seven hitters with batting averages north of .344 and, as always under Head Coach John Schreiner, players who run the bases very aggressively.

Which players are you looking forward to seeing in this year’s playoffs? What team do you think will walk away with the LVC title this spring? Post you comments below or email us at and enjoy a couple action-packed rounds of playoff baseball!



The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft Preview

May 5, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

The commencement of the NFL Draft 2014 is almost upon us.

Before you settle in for all the festivities and start price shopping for jerseys of your favorite team’s newest players, I want to provide you with the latest rumors, insights and possibilities on who’s going where, what team is doing what, and any surprises that might be lurking for this year’s three-day event.

First, here are insights from some of the NFL beat writers who joined us on our most recent “RCN SportsTalk” show, discussing the Eagles’ draft direction, DeSean Jackson’s departure and the top pick in the draft overall (the entire program is available to watch for free on RCN On-Demand).

Now, here are a few more bits of information from our sources on what to watch for in this year’s draft:

1) Don’t expect the Eagles to “stand pat.”
They’ve already made several incredibly risky moves—the biggest of these in releasing their most dynamic player, DeSean Jackson—so don’t be surprised if they make a move. The Eagles do have some depth on the line and rumors continue to swirl that Brandon Graham, who never quite fit in comfortably to the Birds’ new defense, might be one piece that gets swapped in order for the team to move up in the draft.

2) Expect to hear all-Manziel, all-the-time on Thursday.
Right or wrong, the NFL, ESPN and all the national media outlets love to overexpose someone at the NFL draft, and “Johnny Football” will be the guy this year. Rumored to be drafted anywhere from third to twenty-third, the former Aggies quarterback will be talked about early and often in Thursday’s “Day One” events, and probably even more so in the weeks and months to follow, regardless of whether he succeeds or not.

3) Look for the SEC to do some gloating.
While they will no doubt lose a ton of talent—again–due to this year’s draft, the SEC will be able to brag about having as many as nine players from their conference selected in the first round. I figure Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina and Auburn’s Greg Robinson go in the first five selections, and Manziel, along with fellow Texas A&M standouts Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, are next to go, with plenty more talent from this conference left for other teams to pick up before the draft’s second round gets underway.

Who do you think will be drafted #1 this year, and where do you think Manziel will end up? Post your opinions in our comments section or send an email to


The SportsTalk Shop: Questions Surrounding DeSean’s Departure

April 28, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment


OK. I’m going to try my best not to make too big a deal of this issue…for the rest of the year. But you have to admit, the departure of DeSean Jackson, whether you agree with the move or not, has raised a ton of unanswered questions.

The initial release of the Philadelphia Eagles’ most electric player has been debated for several weeks, and there are more pressing on-field issues that this organization, and its fan base, need to start addressing. But before we turn the page—or at least try to, since this topic will resurface if and when the current receivers have a bad game—there are specific questions I still have. For myself and for many football fans in the Delaware County and Lehigh Valley areas, these questions must be answered before we can even think about moving forward–from an emotional standpoint.

Since the Eagles themselves continue to be tight-lipped and refuse to address this issue, here are the questions I’m going to be asking the Eagles’ beat writers when they are our guests on this Thursday’s “RCN Sports Talk” show (live at 6pm).

1) The timing of the release?
Once the initial shock subsided, this was my biggest question. Why now? Why not at the beginning of free agency when you could have explored bringing in another receiver? Why wait until all free agent options are now gone before opening up that spot? And if you weren’t going to do it earlier, why not wait until you get close to the NFL draft? Maybe someone gets desperate, wanting a receiver or looking to maneuver for a different pick, and becomes a willing trade partner so that you get something…anything…for him in return. Since the Eagles didn’t immediately pursue another option, nor have they in the weeks that followed, I’m left to wonder if they really had a plan to replace him at all.

2) Why a release?
I’ve been told by my football contacts that they would not have gotten very much —at the time they released him—in return for Jackson through a trade. A seventh-round pick? A journeyman linebacker who wouldn’t make the team? What would be the point?

My beef is, by releasing him, they left themselves open for the real possibility that any team, including their divisional rivals – Giants, Cowboys and Redskins – could swoop in and pick him up.

Remember the dreadful Cliff Lee deal, in which the Phillies traded Lee to Seattle for three prospects who have yet to taste major league success? At least the Phillies traded him to a team that could not come back to haunt them in their own league. By releasing Jackson and making his salary more flexible for a team to pick him up, they’ve allowed for a team (aka Washington) that can—and will—use Jackson against the Eagles in their two meetings this year. Do you think fans will forget the release if Jackson has a big game against them and keeps them from making the playoffs this year? You’d have a better chance of the national media forgetting the Santa Clause-snowball incident from decades ago. If the Birds only win two games this year, they better hope and pray it’s against the Redskins, if only to avoid a huge public relations nightmare.

3) Is Chip Kelly’s ego really at the heart of the matter?
I would hope that the Birds’ second-year head coach is man enough to realize that you can’t let your personal feelings get in the way of achieving success for your franchise. Times have changed and coaches can’t make whimsical decisions with millions and millions of dollars—including taxpayer-designated money—just because their feelings are hurt. I keep coming back to this question and want to believe that it did not. There are certainly enough allegations to speculate there’s more to the story than anyone is admitting.

However, the fact that Kelly refuses to publicly address this issue , and the fact that a positive response to this question would nicely satisfy the first two queries, continues to make me wonder.

It also helps to know if DeSean’s style of play influenced the Eagles’ decision and if they would like to go in a different direction at his position. If they want to replace Jackson’s pure-speed ability with a big, physical receiver, they might have to trade up for a higher draft pick before next week’s NFL draft in order to get a quality player they may covet.

What do you think of DeSean Jackson’s departure from the Eagles? Will it ultimately help or hurt the team this season? Send your comments and questions to and we’ll address them on this Thursday’s program, along with a complete preview of next week’s NFL draft and insights on the Eagles’ 2014 schedule. Plus, remember to bookmark our page and check back in with our blog next week for exclusive insights on next Thursday’s NFL Draft and the latest rumors swirling around the Eagles.


The SportsTalk Shop: 4 Spring Observations

April 21, 2014 By Chris Michael Leave a Comment

Most weeks, when I sit down to write my weekly blog, there’s one issue or topic that rises above all others, making my writing discussion decisions rather easy. However, as I sat down to started brainstorming (insert your own jokes here) about which topic to delve into this week, I found myself getting pulled in a few different directions. So instead of an in-depth commentary on just one issue, I have thoughts on four topics of conversation going on in the Delaware and Lehigh Valley areas.

1. The Flyers DO have a chance to advance.
I’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster with this team all season. From the coaching change early in the year…to weeks of spectacular play…to Craig Berube calling out his players for lackluster play right before the playoffs commenced…I really wasn’t sure what to expect for the Flyers’ postseason. I was leaning towards a Flyers series win over the Rangers in six games, but then I heard the ominous report on Steve Mason and was skeptical of any advancement. However, Ray Emery’s 31 saves in net on Sunday gave me and all Flyers fans hope and, just as importantly, tied the opening round series at one game a piece. Unless the Flyers sweep at home, they would have to win at least one more game at Madison Square Garden (Sunday’s victory was their first at MSG since 2011). However, the way Philadelphia was skating in game two and the quality shots they’ve been taking has made me a believer in this team, and I think they can win the series in seven games.

2. The weather is severely affecting the high school baseball season.
I know, the weather has made a mess for everyone over the last five months. During any given week, practice schedules change numerous times, game planning sessions are drastically shortened and young athletes are playing games at a rate in which the professional sports’ unions would be protesting in earnest if it was suggested they play a similar schedule. It hasn’t been fun for all the scholastic sports. However, in high school baseball, rules limit the amount of innings a pitcher can throw in a given week and the weather does give bigger schools and teams with more pitchers an inherent advantage. With most teams having to play four, five or even six games in a seven-day stretch, there are teams that simply don’t have enough quality pitching to compete. It addition to an uneven playing field, the games themselves are also affected. A “regular” pitcher may throw the first five innings of a game, but then may reach his innings limit, forcing someone who normally doesn’t pitch into emergency duty. The result? A 2-1 pitchers’ dual turns into a 15-13 slugfest (and then games that run too long might be cut short because of daylight issues early in the season). It’s not a fun way to play, but the local coaches and athletes have done their best under horrible circumstances.

3. It wasn’t pretty, but the 76ers’ season came to a merciful end.
It isn’t often that a professional sports team can guarantee how their season will unfold and then deliver on its promise. Armed with the “together we build” mantra and the preseason objective of trying to lose on purpose in order to enhance its lottery draft chances, the 76ers tied an all-time record for consecutive losses this past season. After stunning the world with a season-opening win against the Heat, the season quickly went south and the trade-deadline purge helped push the franchise to all new levels of futility. Ironically, their season closed out with a pair of wins – against Boston and a short-handed Miami team.

There were a few bright spots on the court: Michael Carter-Williams delivered some tremendous single-game performances and looked like he can run the point when/if the team ever makes a playoff push. Amongst the rubble of this horrific season, Henry Sims emerged as a serviceable big man who could be a key man off the bench for the team going forward. Tony Wroten also had more good games than bad, and role players like James Anderson and Hollis Thompson gave gritty performances throughout the season. The upcoming NBA draft will be key for the program to move forward, but even with a good draft, the Sixers will probably not be any better than a 30-win team one year from now.

4. High school lacrosse is finding its niche in Pennsylvania.
After becoming a sanctioned PIAA sport several years ago, the sport of lacrosse is gaining momentum. I have announced scholastic games in New Jersey where the sport has been around for decades. At many schools in the Garden State, lacrosse is as popular as basketball, wrestling or even football is at Pennsylvanian schools. While it will probably never ascend to that level in this state, the quality of play has drastically improved in eastern Pennsylvania. Most existing programs now have little trouble getting enough players to complete a quality team, and the skill level is definitely better than the first few seasons when lacrosse was labeled as a “club sport.” Finances and low enrollment numbers will keep many schools from starting a lacrosse program for the foreseeable future, but for the schools that have a team, the game is fun to watch and will continue to get better with improved competition.

How do you feel about some of these issues? What other sports events going on now should be discussed? Post your comments below or email us at to continue the sports conversations!


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