Don’t blame me if these Phillies fail

A few weeks ago, I did something very stupid. I bet $1,000 that the
Phillies would win at least 97 games. I did it legally in Las Vegas, and
I have the betting ticket to prove it. I truly regret this decision.

Judging by the reaction on my WIP radio show, so does all of Philadelphia. The cardinal rule of being a fan is not to count your winnings before they’re cashed, but the addition of Cliff Lee was so inspiring, so thrilling, that I temporarily lost my mind. I actually started the new season by asking — out loud, so everyone could hear — what could possibly go wrong?

Well, now I know. First, Chase Utley reported to spring training with a bad case of patellar tendinitis that will keep him out indefinitely. Then the team expected to have the best ERA became better known for its MRIs. Domonic Brown, Placido Polanco and Jose Contreras all slid into the tube, before Roy Oswalt took a line drive on the side of his neck and joined them.
What else could happen? President Dave Montgomery was hit on the hip with a batting-practice line drive. He was OK, but two days later closer Brad Lidge went on the DL with shoulder soreness. He will be out at least a few weeks.

Now I am left with the annual chore of predicting the fortunes of the 2011 Phillies at a time when they lead the league only in questions. Who will bat third and fifth in the lineup, and how are they supposed to replace the 50 home runs and 200 RBIs of Utley and Jayson Werth? Is anyone capable of closing games? How will Charlie Manuel manage this small-ball team?

Hey, I’m not asking for sympathy, especially from the superstitious types who root for the Phillies. Since I made the bet, I have been blamed for the 50-year championship drought of the Eagles, the current slump of the Flyers (I sat on the bench March 5), the sudden demise of Temple and Villanova in the NCAAs and even the mental meltdown of Charlie Sheen.

What I have learned from my ill-timed wager is to keep my mouth shut — no small challenge for someone who writes a column and fronts a talk show. There will be no prediction on the 2011 Phillies. Yes, a few weeks ago I had visions of 100 wins, another World Series, another parade. Today, I have no desire to annoy the gods of baseball any further.

If the Phillies screw it up from here, it’s their problem, not mine. Now I just need to find a sucker to buy my betting ticket.

Don’t listen to drones

How’s this for a weird twist? While we all hope for a resolution to the NFL lockout, the one thing that may be preventing the Eagles from making a huge mistake is … the lockout.

Rumors began circulating last week that at least one team has stepped up and offered the Birds a first-round pick for Kevin Kolb. This news triggered a surge of joy and anticipation by the already football-starved Eagles fans.

The so-called experts believe this would be an amazing coup for Andy Reid, who drafted Kolb in the second round four years ago. It would be a recipe for disaster.

First of all, Kolb is under contract at a highly affordable $1.4 million. Second, he has cost the team not only the high second-round pick, but $18 million in salary and bonuses. In return, they will get what? Another Mike Patterson or Broderick Bunkley or, worse, Jerome McDougle?

Other than Jeremy Maclin, is there a first-round draft pick in the past decade worth more than Kolb is right now?

If Michael Vick goes down with an injury, the backup QB will be Mike Kafka or a yet-to-be-determined journeyman free agent. In other words, a lost season.

If Reid is going to listen to the drones begging him to unload Kolb, we’ll all be better off with a long lockout.

Flyers need kick in pants

The Flyers are not going to win the Stanley Cup. They aren’t going to the Finals, either. They’ll be lucky to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

There, I said it. After that magical run last season, everyone has been in denial about our suddenly underachieving hockey team, hoping that its struggles are just an aberration. Well, they’re not.

The problem begins with the maestro of last year’s miracle, coach Peter Laviollette. He began the month overworking the players, and then went in entirely the other direction, giving them six days off in the past three weeks. It’s clear that he is floundering now, doubting himself. The
Flyers need him to start breathing fire again.

On the ice, it’s easy to say that the loss of Chris Pronger is the biggest problem. Too easy. The fact is, the team was playing listlessly before he got hurt. It’s time for someone else to step up, like the captain, Mike Richards, or Jeff Carter, or Danny Briere, or either of the goaltenders. No one seems inclined to take on the catalyst role.

The real story of this Flyers team is that it has become a mirror image of the tough, resilient club of a year ago. This team squanders late leads. This team sulks when its luck turns sour. This team has totally lost its way. These Flyers are going nowhere.

–Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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