It’s almost uncomfortable to think about, but sports in Philadelphia are fun again. All of them. There isn’t one pro team in town that isn’t remarkable to follow for one reason or another. It’s not just the pro teams, either. Starting with Villanova’s national title, this has been one helluva fun spring for sports.
How’s this for perspective: There is little doubt the Eagles have improved this off-season, and without even playing a game over the last five months, the Birds have gone from the best pro team in the city to maybe the worst.
Before the Flyers’ brief playoff run this season, no professional team in the city had so much as made the postseason since 2014. And while the Flyers were bounced in the first round this year, the team stacked with a ton of young players and are in a prime position to compete for years to come. If anything, the Flyers rebuild under Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol is ahead of schedule, leaving fans with nothing but excitement for next season.
The Sixers are excited about next season too, so much that the team held a pep rally on the art museum steps this week to celebrate getting the first pick in the NBA Draft. Never has an ownership group in professional sports been so proud of being the worst.
And yet, poor ownership and organizational tumult in the post Sam Hinkie era notwithstanding, there’s a ton of reason to be excited about the Sixers.
Three straight years of tearing down a mediocre product and turning it into a terrible one finally paid off when the Sixers defied the odds and ended up with the first pick in the draft. Suddenly, if Joel Embiid is healthy—a HUGE if, yes—and Brett Brown is able to convince Dario Saric to come over this season, the addition of either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the top pick will give the Sixers a ridiculously talented young roster that can compete in the Eastern Conference in a few years.
Nationally speaking, the Sixers have been the second-most interesting team to follow in the NBA over the last two years. There’s no doubt the Warriors are the most popular team in the game today, but there’s been more coverage, intrigue and debate about the Sixers Process over the last two or three seasons than anything outside of Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour. The Spurs are an amazing team, but they haven’t been as interesting as the Sixers. LeBron’s quest for a title in Cleveland is compelling, but not more so than what the Sixers were doing with Hinkie.
And once the mastermind of this Process up and quit after being hired over, it only made the story that much more intriguing! Now, with the first pick and a huge decision about what to do with Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and the glut of young but talented big men, the Sixers have has fans in Philly actually excited about the future.
The franchise bungled its way through the last four months, but the future is inexplicably bright for the Sixers now.
It’s bright for the Phillies too. A team that went through an organizational overhaul late last year and into the off-season, it was supposed to be several years before the Phillies were competitive. Fans were okay with that, too, as there was a definitive plan in place for turning a team that had big contracts and little return into a smartly-run, analytic-minded club that could identify and develop players that will help the major league club.
It’s just that nobody thought it would happen this fast.
The Phillies aren’t a good team, but they are a winning one. Entering a three-game set with the Braves on Friday, the Phillies are one game back of the Nationals in the NL East, leading the Wild Card race. Their pitching—led by youngsters Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola—has been phenomenal. And while the other starters have leveled off over the last few weeks, the bullpen has become a strength for the Fightins. Jeanmar Gomez has 16 saves in 17 chances and Hector Neris has allowed just 19 base runners in 92 batters faced, a 0.72 WHIP and .133 batting average against.
Sure, the offense is anemic, but nobody expected them to compete this year. The team was projected to lose more than 90 games this season! Through 41 games, the Phillies have 24 wins and a .585 winning percentage, the best for the franchise since winning 102 games in 2011. More than anything, the team is FUN, winning games in dramatic fashion almost every night, boasting a 14-3 record in one run games. The Phillies are seven games over .500 despite allowing 28 more runs than they’ve scored!
This is just a fun, wacky, weird season and they have the first pick in the draft coming up too.
At some point, the Phillies bubble might burst, but that’s okay, because they’ve already proven they have the right people in place to develop the pieces they’ve begun to collect. The Union have done the same, as Earnie Stewart has immediately taken a franchise that had made the postseason just once in its existence—in a league where 12 of the 20 teams make the playoffs—and turned them into a real serious contender.
The Union, who face rival D.C. United on Friday night, are just two points out of first place in the Eastern Conference, with two games in hand over leading NYCFC. Sure, the Union are also two points from missing the playoffs in the tightly-packed standings, but this is the best product we’ve seen from the Union maybe ever.
And, yes, even for Eagles fans.
Transition years can be rough. Of the last seven coaches the Eagles have hired, dating back to Dick Vermeil in 1976, more than half of them had five or fewer victories in their first seasons. That said, the other three—Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes and Chip Kelly—all won 10 games, so there’s certainly hope for Doug Pederson as he takes over helm of the Birds.
The Eagles are good enough to compete in the NFC East this season, but the Giants are still good and Washington, which won the division last year, has gotten better this off-season. Truthfully the Eagles are a year or two away from being real contenders, likely the same amount of time it may take Carson Wentz to develop into a reliable starting quarterback in the NFL.
This season may become something of a weigh station for the franchise as we all wait for Wentz to develop, but still, watching that process is going to be a blast. Hearing the deafening debate of who should start at quarterback week after week is going to be hysterical.
And who knows, maybe the Eagles will see what the Phillies and Flyers and Union and Soul and Wildcats and, hell, throw in the Temple Owls football team are doing and win before any of us expect them to. Bit of advice, though, Eagles. Picking at the top of the draft once is fine. Just don’t become the Sixers. We won’t be holding any pep rallies if you get the first pick in the draft anytime soon.