Phillies’ Momentum Must Continue in Miami

Phillies’ Momentum Must Continue in Miami

Don’t look now, but the Phillies have won five of their last seven, matching their best stretch so far this season. A trip to Miami would seem like the perfect way to capitalize on this recent good fortune, yet it was the lowly Marlins who halted their momentum the last time.

After taking the first two of a four-game set against the Fish, the Phils collapsed. They were unable to solve rookie and master jacket wearer Jose Fernandez for the second time in Game 3, getting held to one hit in a shutout loss. Then came the Roy Halladay meltdown, along with his subsequent apology to the fans and ensuing surgery.

While you can’t necessarily expect them to win every day – even if it is the Marlins – splitting isn’t quite getting the job done, either. At 12-32, Miami is tied for the worst record in baseball, and they’ve produced the fewest runs in the Majors by a whopping 25, averaging 2.66 per game.

And up to this point, the Phillies are just 4-3 through two series with the NL East foe.

Despite the inability to fully take advantage of their weakest opponent – not to mention they’ve been below .500 themselves for over a month since April 15 – Philadelphia has managed to stay within striking distance of the division leaders. The Fightins are 4.5 back of the Braves for first place, 2.5 behind the Nationals in second.

They’ll have a chance to reverse the gap with the Nats in their head-to-head series later this week in Washington, but only if they take care of business down by South Beach first.

Marlins pitching has given the Phillies fits though, particularly Fernandez and Kevin Slowey, both of whom they run into again this week. Fernandez has completed baffled Charlie Manuel’s crew, holding the Phils to three hits over 13 innings, while Slowey has held them to one run through 12.1.

Manuel will be shorthanded as well, at least for the start of the series. Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard were both delayed so they could get MRIs. Howard is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow – although that does not automatically mean he will be available – but Triple-A catcher Humberto Quintero traveled with the team to Florida in case Chooch winds up on the DL.

Update: Howard is day-to-day, while Ruiz will hit the DL on Tuesday and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a hamstring strain.

Those may not even be the biggest absences. With Doc out for the foreseeable future, John Lannan still unavailable, and no obvious options to fill that fifth spot, Tyler Cloyd is slated to return in Game 2 for his second start of the year. That could be a tough draw with Fernandez on for Miami.

Setup man Mike Adams officially went on the 15-day DL on Monday as well, placing additional pressure on the bullpen as well. Quintero replaces him on the 25-man roster.

Even taking all of that into consideration, this is the one opponent where you can’t complain about having a handful of guys out of action. The Phillies should be taking two of three from this sorry club every time, bare minimum.

If they do that much at least, the Phils could be heading into a three-game set with the rival Nats winners of seven or possibly eight of their last 10 – a genuine wave of momentum. It starts tonight with Cole Hamels, who has a chance to rebound against the worst offense in baseball.

Then again, if Hamels continues to struggle with his command, gets knocked around by the Marlins, and fails to pick up his second win of the season, that could establish an entirely different tone, perhaps even washing away their momentum entirely.

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.