Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Oh, Nationals. Is your run at the top already over? Because that's really disappointing if it is.

For much of the season, Washington has been the leader of the pack in the NL East. They were in first place when they played the Phillies only two weeks ago, still had their death grip on it when we last checked the standings 10 days ago, but after spending 32 days on top, the Nats suddenly find themselves 1.5 back. What happened?

After beginning the season red hot, jumping out to a 14-4 record in April, Washington is playing sub-.500 baseball since, going 10-13 over their last 23. Not as easy as the Phillies made it look the last five seasons, is it?

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's status hasn't changed much. They may have made it back to .500 -- for now -- but they remain in last place, still spinning their wheels at five games back.

Dropping two of three to Boston didn't help their cause. Cole Hamels tied for the Major League lead in with his sixth win on Friday, but Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee got roughed up over the weekend, capping the Phils' win streak at six, and destroying their momentum.

The Fightins shouldn't require any extra motivation to dust themselves off for the Nationals though. A rivalry is brewing, and Washington is the first of six straight opponents currently sporting a winning record.

vs. Washington (24-17)

The Nationals' rotation continues to stand among the best in baseball, with a 15-10 won-loss, and a 2.77 ERA -- second best in the Majors. There's no easy draw in the group of five. The Phillies have the horses to match up, but the Nats' bullpen has been strong as well.

Their Achilles heel, if you'll forgive the expression, has been run support. Washington is tied for 11th in the NL with 3.78 runs per game. And what of the Bryce Harper effect? While he's been lighting the world on fire, and the offense hasn't experienced a slight boost overall, it hasn't been enough. In 21 games with the 19 year old in the lineup, the Nats are scoring an average 4.24, compared to 3.3 without.

Washington has been measurably better at home, with a 15-8 record at Nationals Park, while just 9-9 on the road.

@ St. Louis (22-19)

This is the Phillies' first meeting with the reigning World Champions since October's heartbreaking defeat. The Cardinals have led the Central division since Opening Day, but that might not be the case by the time the the Phils arrive in town. St. Louis has lost eight of ten, including three-game sweeps by the Braves and the Dodgers, and they're 6-11 over the last 17. As you can see, they currently own just half a game over the Reds.

It's difficult to explain what's happened to the Cards, who have the most productive offense in the National League, leading the league in home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. Suddenly they can't keep their opponents off the board, allowing six runs or more in nine of their last 10, and over 14 of their last 20. That only happened three times over the first 22 games.

Could be another slugfest for the Phillies, who allowed nine home runs in their series against the Red Sox -- eight by starting pitchers.

@ Mets (22-19)

This has revenge series written all over it. The Mets embarrassed the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park a week and a half ago when the bullpen entered a full-on meltdown. It's disappointing because all three games were there for the taking. Instead they were broomed out of their own building.

Meanwhile, New York's roller-coaster season continues. They left Philly winners of five straight, but are 3-6 since, and had lost four in a row before all of that. Offensively, the Mets have the bats to swing their way back into games, but the problem is they need to. Their pitching staff owns the second-worst ERA in the NL at 4.60, and their bullpen has overtaken the Fightins for the most awful group in baseball.

The Mets still own the Phillies in 2012 however, taking five of six -- all at CBP.

Due up: @ Miami (22-19), vs. LA Dodgers (28-13), @ Baltimore (27-15)

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”