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August 15, 2017

For sports fans, it's finally starting to get sunny in Philadelphia

To quote from that area of the city where you are allowed to park your car in the middle of the street – “Not for nuthin'" but it's a pretty good week to be a Philadelphia sports fan.

OK, so most of the good feelings don’t even involve wins and losses. But since the beginning of the week, Philly fans have to be feeling pretty good about the happenings around three of the four major pro teams, namely the Phillies, Eagles and Sixers.

For the Phillies, it was the big addition of a young prospect in Rhys Hoskins, who after struggling out of the gate in his first few games, homered twice in San Diego on Monday night. For the Eagles, it was a sweet trade that cost them a now-injured Jordan Matthews and a future pick, but returned a young, talented starting cornerback, something they desperately needed. As for the Sixers, they spent the past week being thrown anything but shade by the national media.

Since this is America, and the NFL is the great wheel of sports fortune, let’s start with the green team. No matter how many tears were shed over the departure of good-guy Jordan Matthews, the Eagles needed a quality corner more than they needed a solid slot receiver, especially one who is already hurt and won't play on Thursday night against his former team.

Matthews made a lot of big plays while with the Eagles, but he could hardly be characterized as a game breaker. Although he did appear to be the bridge over troubled water to whom quarterback Carson Wentz looked in key situations, the Eagles have already padded that receiving group this offseason with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith – not to mention Mack Hollins, who caught a 38-yard TD in the preseason opener and was the only receiver not named Matthews to catch a pass from Wentz.

With that as a background, it’s hard to imagine many people being disappointed that Howie Roseman used his front office powers to engineer a trade to reel in cornerback Ronald Darby.

Even before training camp, everybody knew that the Eagles corners would be an issue, and nothing that's happened thus far made the situation any better. In fact, the performance of the corners was so inferior at practice that it was even hard to judge how effective the offense would be as Wentz and his weapons worked against such a sub standard unit.

That's likely no longer an issue as, in the matter of a day, Roseman went out and made a huge upgrade with Darby.

If you really want to know how important the addition of Darby, take the time to check out this great reception made by New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, whom the Eagles will have to face twice.

Imagine the top receivers in the NFL (like Beckham) taking a look at the Eagles corners before the trade. No matter how improved the Eagles offense over the offseason, all of that optimism would have been muffled by the situation at cornerback.

And not to bask in another team’s misery (right!) but the past week also featured a six-game suspension for Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. No matter the final verdict on Elliott, it is pretty clear that the bonfires to celebrate the start to a championship run by the Cowboys have turned into a series of dumpster fires, and the Eagles should benefit.

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The next order of business involves the Phillies, who might have a better starting pitcher than they believed in Aaron Nola. Although the popular book on Nola is that he doesn’t have the velocity top become an "ace," he sure has looked that way over the past several weeks.

Nola continued his parade of strong starts with an impressive win over the New York Mets over the weekend, and that gave him 10 consecutive starts in which he went six or more inning and gave up two runs or fewer. 

The Phillies also called up first base prospect Rhys Hoskins, who had been clobbering the ball in the minors. The Phils planted him in left field, just to get him some Major League at-bats – and he showed his power with those two home runs on Monday night.

In the meantime, Odubel Herrera continued his torrid hitting pace. Then again, Herrera also continued to make some mental blunders, but at least they are easier to overlook when he makes highlight plays in the outfield, and ranks among the best hitters in baseball since the break.

All in all, not a bad vibe coming from a team that flat-lined through the month of May.

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And that brings us to the Philadelphia 76ers.

There is always something going on with the Sixers, and many times it involves injury, questionable marketing strategies, or just annoying updates on a blueprint that won't be realized until some distant, far away future.

Well, it appears that the future is not so far away – and you can usually tell by the old-fashioned American game of "Follow The Money." In this case, follow the network television money, and you will see a schedule in which the Sixers will be featured in 14 nationally televised games.


That number is even more inflated when you take into account NBA TV. If you add in those games, you have your Philadelphia 76ers on 23 games coast-to-coast – and even beyond. Remember, the Sixers had already been chosen to play a game in London, and a game on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks.

So, it appears the time spent waiting for Joel Embiid to be healthy has come to an end. You combine Embiid with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz and you can see why the NBA, along with the networks, are banking that the Sixers will be a show.

You can usually get a pretty good idea about how good a team should be by taking into account the number of times it is scheduled to be a national TV feature. 

So, before leaving the land of feel good, you can also take into account that the Flyers will be on national television 20 times this season, just one fewer less than the Chicago Blackhawks who have the most with 21 games.

Indeed, the sports forecast is finally calling for it to be sunny in Philadelphia.

Follow Al Morganti on Twitter: @nufced

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