Tag Archives: Christmas

Advent: A time for anticipation, and patience

Today is the first day of the period known as “Advent”, a season observed by most Christians as a time of expectant waiting and preparation as we approach the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas, as well as his return at the Second Coming.

Two popular songs from my lifetime often pop into my head when I think of Advent themes. “Anticipation” by Carly Simon and “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses.

No, they are not traditional Christmas songs. It is the themes which those two songs are built around that highlight this period in the church.

Anticipation…is keepin’ me waitin’“, as Simon sings in her 1971 song from the album of that same name.

The song opens with the lines: “We can never know about the days to come. But we think about them anyway.

This is entirely true when we consider that Advent is not only a lead-up to Christmas, but is also a time to reflect on and prepare for that return of Jesus at the end of time.

We don’t know when that time will come. A thousand years from now? A century? A decade? Next year? Maybe today.

What we do know is that He will come again. It is our job to be prepared for that time coming at any time.

As the Gunners 1989 song from their “G N’ R Lies” LP rolls towards it’s end, my favorite part of the tune plays out:

I’ve been walking the streets at night
Just trying to get it right
It’s hard to see with so many around
You know I don’t like being stuck in the crowd
And the streets don’t change but maybe the names
I ain’t got time for the game ’cause I need you
Yeah, yeah, but I need you…

Today’s world is more hectic than ever. The demand for immediacy and perfection is a major challenge to the happiness of many.

But consider the world before the last few decades. A time when there was no Internet. No cellphones. No cable television. Why, just a century ago there was no radio or television at all.

Those 100 years are nothing. A fraction of time when you consider that the United States has been a nation for 243 years now, and that mankind has been building civilizations for thousands of years.

The Jewish people have been known to history since at least 1,000 years before the birth of Christ. From the very beginnings, it was known that one day a savior or messiah would come to redeem and liberate the Jewish people.

These early Jews were the forerunners of today’s Christianity. As Christians, we believe that the Messiah came to the world as Jesus Christ.

But imagine being a Jew who was waiting for that messianic appearance. A thousand years. Generation up on generation lived and died knowing the time would come, hoping it might come in their time, yet never experiencing that appearance.

That is some patience.

During this time leading up to Christmas, many of you are going to feel rushed. You are going to feel pressured. You are going to feel overwhelmed. Shopping, decorating, parties, and more.

Stop. Breathe. Do not allow it to happen. Anticipate the coming of Christmas with joy in your heart, and do not ever allow commercialism to overtake that joy.

Have patience with crowds, with family, and most importantly with yourself. Keep things simple. You don’t need to be all things to all people. And you certainly don’t need to go into debt to make others happy.

The anticipation of the coming Christmas holiday comes natural to most of us. It is just as important that you prepare to exercise that quality of patience as well over these coming weeks.

 

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Phillies Christmas Tree: Aaron Nola

It was just five months ago that Aaron Nola made his big league debut on July 21st. 
On that day at Citizens Bank Park, Nola shut down the Tampa Bay Rays, allowing just five hits and one run while striking out a half-dozen Rays’ batters over six innings.
That was the first of thirteen starts Nola would make in his rookie season. He was shut down a week early, following a shutout of Washington at Nationals Park over five innings.
All in all, Nola finished the season with a 6-2 record, 3.59 ERA, and a 1.197 WHIP. He allowed 74 hits in 77.2 innings, with a 68/19 K:BB ratio. 
The player who had been the Phillies 1st round MLB Amateur Draft choice just a year earlier had shown that he belonged and could be counted on in a big league rotation.
With every prognosticator of such things already predicting that Nola would ultimately settle into the middle of a contending big league rotation, it might appear that all the 22-year old needs to do in the coming 2016 season is stay healthy, and keep on keepin’ on. 

Do what he did in 2015, only over a full season, and continue that over a long career.
However, even with an obviously talented player such as Nola, one who has produced at every level to this point in his young career, there is plenty to hope for under a baseball Christmas tree. 
There are three things in particular that we hope were found under his tree in this case.
The first is the same as with any pitcher – health. He has never faced a significant injury. If the Phillies end up getting a decade of 180-200 mostly quality innings seasons from their right-hander that would be invaluable for the franchise.
As the 2015 season wound to a close, and the organization was debating whether to shut him down early, Nola was quoted by Philly.com’s Matt Breen on the topic. “I definitely feel better than I thought I would at this time of year,” Nola said. “I still feel like I can pitch a good bit.
In the 2014 season, Nola had pitched 116.1 innings over 16 starts in winding down his outstanding collegiate career at LSU
After being drafted and signed by the Phillies in early June, Nola proceeded to pitch another 55.1 innings over a dozen appearances, 11 of them starts, split between Clearwater and Reading.
That total of 171.2 innings in 2014 was ultimately increased to 187 innings this past season. 
He tossed 109.1 of those in the minors, split between Reading and Lehigh Valley, and then those 77.2 with the Phillies. That bump of 15.1 innings in usage should not be considered excessive.
While the Phillies have been somewhat aggressive in their promotion and usage of Nola, that was really part of the point in drafting him in the first place. 
He was considered an advanced prospect who would not require much developmental time in the minors, and that has proven to be the case.
A second gift that it would be nice for Nola to receive is one of increased performance. His anticipated role as a mid-rotation starter on a contender, more of a solid #3 or 4 type, could be elevated to more of a strong #2 starter.
The key there will be maintaining and possibly even improving upon the pinpoint control that allows his pure stuff, which is a tick above average, to play up even further. 
If Nola finds another level in performance, and can develop into a Greg Maddux clone, even an approximation of that level of control, what a gift that would be for the player and the Phillies.
Finally, Nola could receive the gift of a better team in front of him. He performed well and won consistently with the worst team in Major League Baseball. 
A leap forward by the talent around him would be a boon to the stats on the back of his baseball cards, and to the fans who will be paying to enjoy them all.

Phillies Christmas Tree: Maikel Franco

During September of 2014, Maikel Franco made his debut in Major League Baseball. 
It was an inauspicious beginning with the Phillies, as Franco hit for just a .179/.190/..214 slash line in 58 plate appearances across 16 games.
Still, the Phils top prospect had gotten his feet wet, and would surely benefit the next time he got the call. That call came a little more than seven months ago, on May 15th.
Just two days later, Franco launched his first big league home run off Randall Delgado in a 6-0 Phillies victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park.

Franco took over the starting 3rd base position, and was handling his defensive responsibilities well, while providing a much-needed young spark to the middle of the batting order.
From his promotion through August 10th, a period that encompassed 76 games, or roughly a half-season, Franco hit for a .277/.388/.490 slash line with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 48 RBI, and 43 runs scored. 
But just when he was shoving himself into the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, disaster struck. On August 11th, Franco stepped in against the DBacks at Chase Field
On the mound, ironically, was righty Jeremy Hellickson, who will now be a Franco teammate with the Phillies in 2016.
Hellickson drilled Franco with a fastball on the left wrist in the top of the 1st inning. The pitch would cause a small fracture, one that appeared to end his promising rookie season.
But Franco was able to recover in time to make appearances in the final three games of the season. He even banged a home run at Citizens Bank Park in the 2nd game of an October 3rd doubleheader against the Miami Marlins.
Franco hopefully woke this morning to find a pair of important gifts from Santa, from a baseball perspective, under his Christmas tree.
The first is simply good health. If Franco can stay healthy all year in 2016, have even small performance increases from the players around him, and continue a normal expected developmental growth progression of his own, then we could be looking at a 30+ home run, 100+ RBI season. 
No Phillies batter has reached either of those marks since Ryan Howard in the 2011 season.
Another important gift that Franco hopefully found is increased defensive effectiveness. 
While he may have appeared to make most of the plays to the casual fan, the fact is that Franco’s defense by any measurable standard was below average at the hot corner last season.
If it turns out that Franco has to move across the diamond to 1st base eventually, that isn’t the biggest disaster. 
But it would close off that position for any other all-bat player who comes along, perhaps a prospect such as Jorge Alfaro or Cornelius Randolph, and would create a hole in the future lineup at 3rd base.
If Franco indeed awoke to find full health and better defense under the tree, those will be gifts for not only himself, but also for the entire Phillies organization and the fan base. 
Those would be gifts that keep on giving all through the 2016 season, and well into the future.

Phillies Christmas 2015: Naughty or Nice?

While the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies team saw a bunch of players make Santa’s “Naughty” list, some actually made his “Nice” list for Christmas.

When a team finishes with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball, it’s easy to see why so many will be receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings from the right jolly old elf this year.
But for a handful of the team’s players, enough positives were provided, enough thrills given to the loyal fans who stayed with the team through a third successive dismal campaign, that they earned their Christmas gifts.
Not every player made it to either list. In fact, most of the players had performances or roles that were so inconsequential that they will be receiving neither coal nor great presents. Maybe the man in the red suit will leave them a little something as a future incentive.
So who specifically found themselves relegated to this year’s “Naughty” list, and who made that “Nice” list? 
Well, I just happen to have contacts at the North Pole who provided this year’s list, faxing it down to me this afternoon.
I promised that I would not reveal the entire list. But I was given permission to reveal the status of a half-dozen key members of the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies ball club. 
So here are those six members of the team, and on which list their name appears.

Phillies Christmas Stockings: Gifts or Coal?

Phillies Christmas stockings: coal or gifts?
It’s Christmas morning, and all across the Delaware Valley folks are waking to find presents under the Christmas tree and stockings stuffed with gifts. But what about the Phillies? For their 2014 performance, what did we leave in their TBOH Phillies Christmas stockings: gifts or coal?
For the good boys, the good performers who busted it hard all year and held up their end in trying to bring a winner to the fans, there will be gifts. For the bad boys, the poor performers whose play constantly let us down and led most directly to the losing season, there will be only coal. Here’s what every player who appeared in 2014 received:
BAD BOYS – COAL IN THEIR TBOH STOCKINGS 
Domonic Brown: the worst player on the roster in 2014, especially given his playing time. Also, easily the biggest disappointment, coming off what was hoped to have been a breakout 2013 All-Star campaign. His season was a disaster: a .235 batting average, .285 on-base percentage in 512 plate appearances. Hit just 10 homers, scored just 43 runs, and was the worst player on the roster in WAR.
Ryan Howard: a real shame to watch his deterioration. This man was a true force for a long time, 7 dominating seasons from 2005-2011. He needs to be remembered by fans for the peak performance over the long haul. But he is a shadow of his former self now. In 2014 only Brown was a worse WAR player among the regulars. He hit just .223 with a .310 on-base percentage. He was 2nd on the club with 23 homers, and was 4th in the NL with 95 rbi. But in 648 plate appearances, even these are disappointing figures.
Cody Asche: the 25-year old 3rd baseman played his first full season in 2014. He generally fielded his position well, but he basically brought nothing to the batting order of any consequence. Hit just .252 with a .309 on-base percentage. In 434 plate appearances he produced just 10 homers, 46 rbi, 43 runs scored, and stole 0 bases. He only even attempted one steal. That’s zero bases stolen for a 25-year old man. I know that’s not his game, but even 35-year old catcher Carlos Ruiz stole 4 bags.
Mario Hollands: the 25-year old rookie lefty reliever appeared in 50 games. Though he allowed fewer hits (45) than innings (47), he also walked 21, resulting in a 1.404 WHIP and the worst pitching WAR among those given any significant time on the mound.
Kyle Kendrick: I’ve never been one to beat up on KK, as many other Phillies fans have over the years. He is what he is, a #4 starter at best, a #5 on a contender. But in 2014 he was given significant innings, and he lived down to his potential. In 199 innings pitched over 32 starts, 3rd and 2nd most on the staff in those categories, he had a 4.61 ERA. Kendrick allowed 214 hits, and struck out just 121 batters.
It's coal in the stocking for AJ, gifts for Chooch (Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
A.J. Burnett: brought in to be a veteran innings-eating #3 behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, he had to step into the #2 role with Lee’s injury, and he just wasn’t up to it most games. He did eat innings, leading the staff with 213.2, and he struck out 190 batters. But his ERA was 4.59 and he walked 96, resulting in a 1.409 WHIP.
Management: manager Ryne Sandbergwas dealt a bad hand of mismatched, injured, and aging players. But he didn’t do much to bring it together either. If these were grades, I’d give him an incomplete. He needs a more clean slate. But for now, can’t “gift” him. Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Jr? Please. There isn’t enough of a coal supply available to appropriately fill those stockings.
More coal: John Mayberry Jr, Tony Gwynn Jr, Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Reid Brignac, Freddy Galvis, Jayson Nix, Maikel Franco, Ronny Cedeno, Aaron Altherr, Koyie Hill, Cameron Rupp, Grady Sizemore, Cesar Jimenez, Wil Nieves, Andres Blanco, B.J. Rosenberg, Phillippe Aumont, Luis Garcia, Sean O’Sullivan, Jonathan Pettibone, Ethan Martin, Brad Lincoln, Shawn Camp, Miguel A. Gonzalez, Jeff Manship, Hector Neris, Mike Adams
GOOD BOYS – GIFTS IN THEIR TBOH STOCKINGS
Cole Hamels: just 9 wins for the 30-year old lefty, but hardly his fault. He made 30 starts, allowing just 176 hits in 204.2 IP, striking out 198 and allowing just 59 walks. It added up to a 2.46 ERA and a 1.148 WHIP, and a pitching WAR value that was more than twice any other arm on the staff.
Jonathan Papelbon: the closer was outstanding with 39 Saves, a 2.04 ERA, a 0.905 WHIP, and a 63/15 K/BB rate over 66.1 innings. Some negative commentary and off-color antics aside, he has done everything asked of him in the closer role since being signed as a free agent.
Cliff Lee: I’m not holding the injury against him, hardly his fault. When on the mound, he was mostly himself. In 81.1 innings over 13 starts, the 35-year old lefty had a 72/12 K/BB ratio. He was hit more than usual, but the excellent control kept his ERA down to a 3.65 mid-level result.
Jerome Williams, Roberto Hernandez & David Buchanan: it’s all about expectation and production for these three. I didn’t expect anything, and I got something, although modest. Both Hernandez & Buchanan received 20 starts, kept their ERA’s below the 4.00 mark, and allowed about a hit per inning. Buchanan had a tidy 71/32 K/BB ratio for a 25-year old rookie, which was especially nice. Hernandez, a free agent who would have left after the season, ultimately yielded a 19-year old pitcher and 20-year old infielder in trade. Not a bad result all around. The 32-year old Williams was a very nice find, with a 4-2 record in 9 starts. He had a 38/17 K/BB ratio, and allowed just 48 hits in 57.1 innings. It all added up to a 2.83 ERA and 1.134 WHIP.
Chase Utley: the 35-year old 2nd baseman returned to the All-Star Game as the NL’s starter at 2nd, and led the team in WAR. A .278 average and 78 rbi were more than anyone expected from a player who appeared physically shot just a year ago at this time. His defense was also strong, as he was 2nd on the club in defensive WAR. A very nice bounce-back season for the fan favorite.
Jimmy Rollins: the 35-year old shortstop said goodbye at the top of the franchise all-time Hits list, and went out much as his longtime doubleplay partner produced. He was 2nd on the club in offensive WAR to Utley, producing a 17 homer, 68 rbi, 78 runs, 28 steal year. Then he yielded a pair of Top 5 club pitching prospects in trade. Goodbye Jimmy, we love ya. 
Carlos Ruiz: at 35-years old, Chooch has caught over 900 games, and he’s starting to show the wear and tear, at least in his offensive game where he hit just .252 with 6 homers in 445 plate appearances. But the respected team leader and fan favorite remains elite in the defensive game, leading the club in defensive WAR. He retains strong catch and throw skills, and his handling of the pitching staff is outstanding.
Ben Revere: the 26-year old centerfielder hit .306 and contended for the NL Batting crown for much of the late season. He also stole 49 bases and hit 7 triples. He clearly uses his speed well. But he has no pop whatsoever, hitting just 2 homers and 13 doubles in 626 plate appearances. His defensive game was disappointing, and will have to improve for him to retain value going forward.
Marlon Byrd: the 36-year old rightfielder led the club with 25 homers and was 2nd with 85 rbi. But his defense was below par, and his offensive production seriously declined post-All Star break as he had just 7 homers and 31 rbi in 247 plate appearances after mid-July. He is borderline “gift” over “coal”, and hopefully yields something of value in trade this off-season that makes us happier to have him on this side of the ledger.
The Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo (28), Jake Diekman (27), Justin DeFratus (26) and most especially Ken Giles (23) had teamed with Papelbon to make this one area of true strength for the team by season’s end. They combined for 233.1 innings in which they allowed just 179 hits. They struck out 294 batters while walking just 92.