Five Encouraging Parts of the Phillies' Sweep of the Mets This Weekend

Five Encouraging Parts of the Phillies' Sweep of the Mets This Weekend

We've gotten so used to crappy development after crappy development with our teams this past year that it's almost unsettling when something unreservedly positive happens with one of them. But in case you were too busy this weekend watching game film on Matt Barkley or celebrating the historic demise of the Lakers and Celtics, the rumors are true--the Phillies swept the Mets at Citi Field this weekend, winning three games by a combined score of 18-5. If it was five years ago, this would have been cause for rioting in the streets; even in 2013, it's a pretty cool thing.

None of the three games were even particularly close--yesterday afternoon's game was knotted for a while, but the Phils broke it open in the seventh and the Mets never really fought back. And in the meantime, a whole bunch of our guys who had been struggling some got to get back on track. Some of the positives include:

1. Cole's first win of the season. Hamels had gone a dispiriting five starts without earning a W, despite going at least six innings while allowing  three runs or fewer in his last three starts. He finally got one yesterday, although it wasn't Cole's sharpest performance--he walked an uncharacteristic six batters, his most since July of last year. But he managed to get out of trouble and only let up two hits all game, and after giving the Mets one in the first, went five more scoreless before turning the game over to the bullpen.

2. The Bullpen holding tight. Speaking of which. After being about as secure as a Playskool piggy bank for four games against the Pirates, the bullpen was actually on lockdown for this series, letting up only two hits and one run in seven innings of combined work, the lone damage courtesy of a John Buck solo blast off Jeremy Horst in a game the Phils were already leading 9-3. The bullpen on this team was supposed to be a strength, so it's good to see that the Pittsburgh disaster situation does not appear to be a continuing crisis.

3. Ryan getting on track. Ryan Howard only had one hit in each of the three games--he was just a pinch-hitter in the third game anyway--but he made them count, with a game-breaking three-run homer in the first, a floodgate-opening RBI single in the second, and a huge, go-ahead two-run double in the third. He ended with seven RBIs on the series, awesome production from our hot-and-cold cleanup hitter. Ryan's clearly still not the MVP candidate he was a half-decade ago, with more of his one-time home runs dying at the wall and his walk rate diminishing to near non-existence, but if he can at least stay a net positive on offense, we won't be kept up at nights thinking about the four years, nearly $100 mil left on his contract.

4. Dom and JMJ going back-to-back. Domonic Brown's alternately frustrating and tantalizing year continues, as he only went 3-13 on the series, but with one of those three being a three-run blast that put game two of the series to bed in the fifth inning. John Mayberry Jr. followed that with a solo blast of his own, continuing his 2011-level production for the season, with ten extra base hits (tied for second on the team) in just 73 plate appearances. We could really use at least one of these guys turning out to actually be a good, reliable everyday outfielder, so we'll continue to grasp onto these scraps while gritting our teeth through their 0-4 with three strikeouts games.

5. Kyle going the distance. Kyle Kendrick picked up just the second shutout victory of his career with a three-hit, one-walk, five-K blanking of the Mets in the series opener. With his 2-1 record, 2.41 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 3:1 K/BB ratio, Kendrick has been the unlikely ace of the Phils' pitching staff this year, despite making over $15 million less than three of our other starters. It might not last, but going back to the second half of last year now, Kendrick has made a decisive case for being a reliable back-end starter, if not more. He probably won't get optioned to Triple A again at any point this year, at the very least.

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Related: a Phillie Phanatic photo gallery

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The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

The Sixers without Joel Embiid: Still just the Sixers

Well, if anyone hoped the Sixers' performance at game's end against Portland on Friday night -- with Joel Embiid riding the bench, ruled out for the game's remainder with a left knee contusion -- would carry over to an entirely Embiid-less game again Saturdaynight... I guess you're not alone, 'coz I sorta did. Perhaps it shouldn't have been particularly surprising to see that the Sixers were still the same team last night in Atlanta they were the previous Saturday against the Wizards: good enough to hang against an above-average East team, but not nearly good enough to actually win. 

At least they kept this one closer longer. Normally, against the Hawks, once the single-digit lead in the first half balloons into the double-digit lead in the third quarter, it never deflates back, but this time we cut it down to seven a couple times -- just never hitting that one big shot that would've really made things interesting, ultimately losing 110-93. It doesn't help that Nik Stauskas is in the midst of one of his most refrigerated runs as a Sixer, going just 7-30 (3-16 from deep) over Philly's last five games, or that Dario Saric is similarly bricking shots near and wide, a remarkable 2 for 22 over his last couple contests. 

This, sadly, is a primary reason why the Sixers' playoff hopes, while fun to dream about, are still unlikely to be more than a flicker. Over the next few weeks, the Sixers have a trio of back-to-backs coming up, with the back-end games coming against Milwaukee, Sacramento and San Antonio -- none of which Philly, 2-12 without their star center, are probable to win sans JoJo. Even if they can take care of business with Embiid on the court, it'll be tough to make up the ground that the Sons of Sam need to while they have to drop one every three or four games as Joel sits. 

That's fine, though. This season's been super-fun, but we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves: Let's ensure Embiid's health, maybe get Ben Simmons out there too, secure a nice draft pick or two (though the plummeting Kings could be of significant help with that themselves), and focus on making next year even more of a thing. The future remains impossibly bright, even if the present is going to have to be borderline-unwatchable once or twice a week.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.