Joe Blanton Officially Comes Off The Rails

Joe Blanton Officially Comes Off The Rails

Not gonna lie, I was a little surprised to see Joe Blanton on my television as the bottom of the sixth got underway. Maybe it's because he had only thrown 81 pitches up to that point, or maybe Charlie Manuel just wanted to give him a chance to pitch out of a slump -- perhaps both. Whatever the reasons, New York tacked on two more runs before Blanton ever recorded an out, and the Phillies finally ran out of fight, falling to the Mets by a score of 6-3.

The game itself was just one of 162, but Heavy B's demise is still ongoing. Since throwing a complete-game shutout against the Braves on May 3, Blanton has been totally unreliable, especially in his last three appearances. The big righty has surrendered 19 earned runs in 13.2 innings, which equates to an ERA over 10.00, and therefore was not deemed worth calculating. However, just four weeks ago it was 2.83 for the season -- now it's climbed to 5.05.

While Blanton was not counted on for the bulk of last season, or during the 2010 playoffs for that matter, his absence as a credible arm in the rotation could become problematic very fast in 2012. Even though Vance Worley is expected back from the disabled list soon, the staff is already stretched to the limit whenever Kyle Kendrick enters the mix. If he or Blanton aren't cutting it, or anybody else should require time off, I'm not entirely sure who is next in line.

That he is becoming increasingly useless carries additional implications, namely his becoming less attractive to other teams. Not that GMs were lining up around the block to swap for Blanton's services, but when on his game, he can help a ball club win a World Series the way he did here in '08. The Phillies weren't going to uncover the Holy Grail or anything, but at this rate, I'm not sure how many more times they can afford to trot him out there, let alone how they go about finding takers.

Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves a little bit there, but Blanton's regression is disappointing from any angle. Whether you're stuck with him for the remainder of this season or not, the Phils can't keep tossing a starter who allows six or seven runs per outing. Who's built for that?

It's actually quite gripping the way every little cog in the wheel matters so much more in what has all the makings of being a hotly contested NL East -- or Wild Card chase should that be the case -- all summer long. Blanton missed the majority of 2011, but it was barely worth mentioning. Now the Phillies almost require him to step up, and he's shrinking.

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

It's been a long road back to relevance for the Penn State football program. 

The Nittany Lions surprised just about everyone this season by finishing 10-2, winning the Big Ten title and claiming a spot in the historic Rose Bowl against USC on Jan. 2. 

For one fan, the surprise season went one step further.

Per ESPN's Instagram account ...

But wait, there's more. 

Not only was he surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in what could be the most touching video of the year, but he even got a personal call from Penn State head coach James Franklin thanking him for his support. 

Not a bad way to close out 2016.