Kyle Kendrick's Escape Act Isn't Likely To Continue

Kyle Kendrick's Escape Act Isn't Likely To Continue

In 642 National League games so far, only 13 times has a starter limited eight hits or more of damage to just two runs or fewer. Kyle Kendrick owns two of those starts.

The only other pitcher with two such starts is Justin Verlander.

This year, Kendrick's been one of baseball's best at getting himself out of his own mess. The result? The Phillies second-best starter ERA (3.28), from their No. 4.

But how long does it last? Will it buckle tonight in Game 1 against the Mets?

Kendrick sidestepped trouble twice against New York earlier this month. He fanned back-to-back batters in the second inning to get out of a bases-loaded jam. Later in the fifth, he popped up Ike Davis for an inning-ending double play.

He had another two such instances in this past series finale against the Cardinals, one in the second inning, one in the sixth. On one, Kendrick forced leadoff man Jon Jay into a ground-out to strand men at second and third.

As for his other two starts: in one, he two-hit the Reds over seven scoreless. In the other, he got gotten once in the Phillies 13-4 home opening loss to the Royals, though he was robbed of a chance to redeem himself.

Despite the platoon advantage against Billy Butler with men on second and third and two outs in the sixth, Charlie Manuel opted to walk Butler to load the bases and pull Kendrick for Jeremy Horst.

The next batter, Alex Gordon, rocked a bases-clearing triple. Kendrick at the time had thrown only 84 pitches. If he gets the chance and gets Butler, Kendrick has a 2.52 ERA.

What's most remarkable about it is how strong Kendrick's fared after. Two of the three innings he tossed immediately following trouble went 1-2-3. (He didn't appear following one of them.) Those two innings took eight and 10 pitches.

As for the other, Kendrick surrendered only a single.vOf course, sustainability is a serious question. Kendrick's BABIP in high-leverage situations is... .091. With men in scoring position, it's .222.

Part of his fortune is that he's just so happened to face pitchers in two of five. Both were vs. the Cards' Jake Westbrook (.121 career BA). One for the first of two Ks. The other, a bases-loaded ground out for out No. 3.

It also helped that on that Davis pop-up, David Murphy exhibited a Forrest Gump baseball IQ, and so for who knows what reason perpetrated this...thing. Also, Kendrick's FB% with RISP is only 18.8% so far. It was 40.7% last year, and 36.1% in 2011.

What happened that one time he was had -- Eric Hosmer rocketed a three-run shot for Kansas City in the fifth on April 5 with men on first and third -- may soon be common. That may start tonight against the Mets, who took him deep twice and the Phillies five times in three games earlier this month.

Still, with Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee seemingly having turned a corner, and with Roy Halladay, um, trying less (?), the Phillies don't need Kendrick to be an ace. They only him to be beat the other guys' No. 4s.

Just know he's unlikely to be Christian Bale in "The Prestige" much longer.

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

Joel Embiid now as dominant as Henry Sims

There are seemingly countless metrics one can use to detail Joel Embiid's supremacy as a Sixer, but perhaps no stats more clearly tell the story of how indefatigable the rookie has been this season than those of his free-throw shooting. Despite ranking just eighth on the team in total minutes, he's already gotten to the line 215 times this season and made 169 of them, about 250% more than the second-most made FTs on the team (Ersan Ilyasova, 65). What's more, his seven games with ten or more free throws attempted is already more than Thaddeus Young (six), Evan Turner (three) or Jrue Holiday (zero) ever had as a Liberty Baller. 

But yesterday against the Bucks saw JoJo hit a new level with his foul drawing. Despite essentially being shut down by the Bucks in the first half -- I can't remember if he even had a single bucket at the break -- The Process eventually imposed his will in Milwaukee in a major way, parading to the line in the second half, ending with 22 points (as well as 12 rebounds and five blocks) on 4-9 shooting, getting to the line an astounding 18 times. 

Who was the last Sixers giant to accomplish such a feat, you might wonder? Well... 

Yes, it's been an impressive season for our double-redshirt rookie, and every game he seems to add another immortal name to his list of historical analogues. But not until now could we afford to mention him alongside the great Henry "Lickface" Sims, two-year Process legend whose 18 trips to the free-throw line on April 4, 2014 totally helped us win that random late-season game against the then-rebuilding Boston Celtics. As impossible as it once seemed, it now appears that soon, Embiid's folk herodom will be as self-evident and undeniable to the Sons of Sam as that of Hammerin' Hank himself. 

Get this guy to the All-Star team already.

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

Difficult to see now, but remember: Flyers’ window just starting to open

They can’t win away from the Wells Fargo Center. They’ve seen a nine-point cushion in the wild-card standings vanish and when they resume play, they’ll be out of the playoff picture.

The Flyers are who we thought they were. A fringe playoff team lacking in too many areas to be considered a serious contender, despite the overachievement of last season.

When the Flyers entered their bye week, they sat one point ahead of Carolina for the final wild-card spot and two points ahead of Florida and Ottawa. They are 3-8-3 in 14 games since their 10-game winning streak was snapped, and were blown out in back-to-back games in Boston and Washington by a combined score of 11-3.

Yet, they’re still on the brink of the postseason — for now. Perhaps it’s time for a trade from the front office to send a shockwave through the locker room? Not so fast.

“If we can make our team better, we will,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey. “But we’re staying on course.

“I don’t care if we win every game the rest of the year or lose every game, we’re staying on course. We set out on a course two and a half years ago — we’re not deviating from what we planned. I’m not going to make a trade to send a message.”

It’s easy to get carried away in win streaks and unexpected playoff appearances, especially in Philadelphia, where the four major sports teams are rebuilding. It’s even easier to scream for a team to go for it when it shows a glimpse into its full potential.

That is what makes sports fun. It’s what makes for good sports debate programs and entertaining talking heads. But it’s not how organizations should run their operations.

It’s certainly not how Hextall runs his regime with the Flyers. Hextall has a clear vision, and time and time again has shown no signs of expediting his plan for immediate help. He has made it a purpose to build through the draft. We have to remember that, and realize that the Flyers’ front office is playing the long game here, not the short game.

“Right now, we’re gonna stick with what we’ve got here and move forward,” Hextall said Sunday in Washington. “But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better, and if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it.

“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not gonna happen. But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”

Let’s take a step back and make some sense of the Flyers’ current state. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference with 50 points as of Tuesday morning. They are 8-12-3 on the road, with nine straight defeats away from South Philadelphia. They are a top-10 scoring team, with 127 goals, but have allowed a league-high 144 goals against.

Steve Mason’s confidence is completely shook. Michal Neuvirth hasn’t been much better, if at all. Claude Giroux hasn’t scored a goal in 11 games and has just one marker in his last 17 games. (To be fair, he does have seven assists in his last eight games.)

Shayne Gostisbehere has been a healthy scratch twice this season, with his latest coming last Saturday in Boston. He’s struggled with his gap defense, among other areas, and is enduring growing pains in his second NHL season — as expected.

While the Flyers’ defense has scored 102 points, second most in the NHL, it struggles with gaps, turnovers and has too many breakdowns. Ivan Provorov, 20, has been the lone bright spot among the group of eight defensemen.

Head coach Dave Hakstol has juggled his lines and defensive pairs in attempts to find something that works. Some of the moves have worked, others have not. Questioning some of Hakstol’s lineup decisions is fair, but there’s no question his systems work.

There is only so much Hakstol can do with what he has to work with. Part of the blame can be placed on Hextall because this team, as currently constructed, is not there yet. It is, however, unfair to put every decision Hakstol makes under a microscope.

“Hak has tried a lot of things,” Hextall said. “In the end, it’s a group and we win together, we lose together. We have to react as a group better when something doesn’t go our way. That’s bottom line. … Line changes, different D combinations, flipping Mase, Neuvy. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens.”

One of the reasons Hextall opted to hire Hakstol, who came directly from college with no prior NHL coaching experience, is development. Growth takes time, and there is rhyme or reason behind each Hakstol benching, whether we see it or not.

The Flyers’ play the last few weeks has been dumbfounding because a lot of the same mistakes that plagued the team in the beginning of the season — lax team defensive coverage, bad decisions with the puck, letting opponents enter the zone too easily, among others — are reappearing and that’s a fair criticism on the current coaching staff.

But, when we put things in perspective, there are positives. Provorov has proven he’s the real deal before he turned 20 last Friday. Travis Konecny is here, and while he’s been the victim of a Hakstol benching, he’s shown glimpses of what’s to come. Jakub Voracek (41 points) has bounced back, Wayne Simmonds is an All-Star and added penalty kill to his résumé. Brayden Schenn leads the NHL in power-play goals with 11, though his 5-on-5 scoring could improve. And there’s a lot of upside on the farm system, with the potential of seeing an influx of kids joining the Flyers as early as next season. 

“The window is actually starting to open, the way I see it,” Hextall said last week. “The kids we have on our team. The kids we have coming. There’s things happening here that are good. We’re going to get better here. We’re not going to get worse.”

And Hextall is right — the window is just opening and will only open wider. Patience remains key here, and don’t trust the process with the Flyers. Just enjoy the course.