October 17, 2012

Juan and done.

Twenty months ago, I spoke out in favor of Juan Castillo.

"Embrace the insanity of it all," I said. My hope was that promoting your offensive line coach to defensive coordinator would, at the very least, lead to some kind of entertaining disaster. Like an outrageous Nic Cage movie.

It was, of course, anything but. The Philadelphia Eagles are a boring 11-11 in their last 22 games, and Castillo was fired on Tuesday.

Juan wasn't a mess. His defense was 12th in yards per game allowed in 2012, eighth in 2011. Seven interceptions this year, four forced fumbles. Not showing off, not falling behind.

But when Andy Reid needed a fall guy, it was Juan. He was the only one who could go; as Dan Graziano of ESPN.com noted, there's no immediate replacement on staff for embattled offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Todd Bowles, on the other hand, is a suspiciously reasonable choice to take over the defense. Whether Andy knew this offseason that a change would have to come or not, he certainly gave himself a contingency plan.

And it probably won't matter. The Eagles' offense is averaging 17.2 points per game, 31st in the NFL; no defense in history is going to make up for that. If the depleted offensive line doesn't magically get better at football fast, the guy in charge of the other side of the ball will be an afterthought.

It's a desperation move, and everyone knows it. And Reid should be desperate; with five NFC East games, the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints (in New Orleans, of course) still on the schedule, there's no guarantee his team will get the 10 wins (probably) necessary to clinch a playoff berth.

Anything less and it's goodbye Andy, goodbye Michael Vick, goodbye Jim Washburn and Howard Mudd and anyone else who can be jettisoned quickly and painlessly. Reid won't bench Vick, not yet, so he played the only card he had left. Kudos to him for at least recognizing the situation; as an Eagles fan, I hope it works out.

After seeing Sunday's meltdown and the circus that followed, however, I have my doubts.

October 11, 2012

Something is happening in Oakland.

The 2012 Philadelphia Phillies were underwhelming. This is not breaking news; going from 102-60 to 81-81 will sour a fan base real quick.

So god bless my friend Peter. He's a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan, and whenever I'd go over to watch baseball (which was often) I'd inevitably end up catching that night's A's game.

Imagine my surprise, then, when those same A's ended up winning the AL West. And it was genuine surprise; even though I'd seen them play (and mostly win) a few dozen games in 2012, I never thought they had what it takes to catch the Texas Rangers. Let alone wallop them and virtually end their season.

But it's given me a team to root for in these playoffs, which paid off handsomely when Oakland came back against the supremely overrated Jose Valverde and his Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of last night's near-clincher.

In fact, I texted Peter (who was there) before the ninth began, "Good luck pal. You know how bad Papa Grande is." Fortunately for Oakland and all the team's fans, adopted or otherwise, I was right.

You have to look at this Oakland roster to realize how truly special they really are. The A's are so platoon-heavy, and had so many moving parts, that only eight players had more than 300 plate appearances this year. And one of them was Brandon Inge.

But Brandon Moss, a lefty who smartly faced righties in 79% of his plate appearances, ended up with an insane .954 OPS. Yoenis Cespedes surprised everyone by hitting .292/.356/.505 in his first season. Josh Reddick smacked 32 dongers. And Jonny Gomes, according to OPS+, had his best season since 2005.

And the pitching. Oh, the pitching. The A's started 2012 with Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and someone named Graham Godfrey in their starting rotation. Tyson Ross and his 6.50 ERA started 13 games. And the bullpen ended up being anchored by two rookies.

But the rookies -- Sean Doolittle (pride of Shawnee High School) and All-Star Ryan Cook -- were stellar. Doolittle struck out 60 in 47.1 innings. Cook had a 2.09 ERA and a 0.941 WHIP.

Meanwhile, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin combined for 75 starts and over 453 innings. All had ERAs under 3.75. They're 25, 23 and 24 years old, respectively.

It's an amazing story, and unfortunately, one that might end real soon. Justin Verlander will be the opposing pitcher in Game 5, he who struck out 11 A's in seven innings on Saturday. He threw 121 pitches that night, and after last night's bullpen implosion he might throw 150 tonight.

But however how it shakes out (and I can say that because I'm not a real A's fan), the Game 4 comeback was probably the most exciting moment of the baseball season. After many months of frustration and mediocrity in Philadelphia, it was nice to see a team that battled back like the Phillies of old.

Here's rooting for a World Series parade in Oakland.