Cliff Lee Kicks Off Big Series in San Fran

Cliff Lee Kicks Off Big Series in San Fran

Cliff Lee (10-7, 3.14) wasn't on the Phillies last year to pitch against the Giants in the NLCS, but he did take on the eventual 2011 Champions of Baseball twice in the World Series. Unfortunately for the Texas Rangers, Lee lost both of those starts including a rough 6 ER effort in only 4.2 innings of work in game one.

But Lee hasn't always struggled against the Giants, however, including his first ever start as a Phillie back in 2009 when he took a no-hitter into the 6th inning at AT&T Park. He went on to a complete game shutout victory on that day, pretty much making the best first impression a fanbase could ever ask for.

Clifton and the Phillies will take on left-hander Madison Bumgarner (6-10, 3.80) who was one of the guys who played a key role in helping the Giants move on to the Fall Classic last season. He started game four of the NLCS which the Giants went on to win, which gave them a 3-1 series lead. He also later pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the decisive game six.

As for the Phillies new right-handed outfielder brought in specifically to help counter team's left-handed hurlers? Pence has yet to face Bumgarner.

While the Giants came into Philly last week and took a series from the Phils, they have not been playing great ball since then, including a season-high 5-game losing streak which they finally slapped with a win yesterday over the Diamondbacks.

That said, this four game set still features two teams many expect to be the favorites to represent the NL in the World Series come October.

Oh, and Charlie Manuel and Tim Lincecum have been talking a bit, spicing things up between two teams that have a nice little rivalry going.

Tonight's Lineup: Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Shane Victorino, Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence, John Mayberry, Carlos Ruiz, Wilson Valdez, and Cliff Lee.

Don't worry, Phils fans. Utley is simply getting an off day, according to Jim Salisbury. Remember when we thought Utley was going to get regular off days?

Mad Dog Missing: Ryan Madson is on paternity leave so Scott Mathieson has taken his roster spot.

A very late 10:15 EST start for those of us on the East Coast. But the views of the ballpark in San Fran are so pretty, you'll want to tune in.

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”