Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Ryan Howard, Phillies Trying to Shake Off the Rust

Not many ball players have ever received a rousing ovation
for getting thrown out at third base, not the way Ryan Howard did at Citizens Bank
Park on Friday night.

The Big Piece had just hit his second home run in as many
days during the previous at bat, and fourth over the last nine games, so he was
understandably feeling a little frisky. Next time up Howard swept a double into
the right-field corner, a place where Miami outfielder Marcell Ozuna was
experiencing some difficulty collecting the ball.

With the Phillies already ahead comfortably in the third
inning – 3-0 being considered comfortable when the opponent is the Miami
Marlins – Howard “made an executive decision.” He rounded second and charged
toward third.

[ Watch Ryan Howard
try for three
]

It turns out this Ozuna kid has a hose attached to his right arm, as
the 22 year old delivered a rope to cut-off man Donovan Solano, who in turn
fired the perfect relay throw to Placido Polanco as Howard belly-flopped
head-first at the third baseman’s feet. Polly applied the tag with several
moments to spare.

Then it happened. The fans… cheered. Howard… laughed, along
with his teammates in the dugout. Everything was okay.

It’s easy to forgive and forget when the mistake comes at
the hands of the Marlins, who predictably did not go on to put up much of a
fight in the Phils’ 4-1 victory. Miami’s record fell to 8-22 for the season,
tied with the Houston Astros in the American League for worst in Major League
Baseball.

There is something to be said for enjoying oneself at the
ball park though – no matter who you are – and Howard’s jaunt seemed to lighten
the air on the diamond for possibly the first time since spring training concluded. It
was about more than stretching a double into a triple.

It was about the Phillies feeling like their old selves again.

How well cleanup is swinging the bat of late is no doubt easing
some of the pressure inside the clubhouse as well. Howard has been hitting for
average since the first week of the season; now he’s starting to hit for power
and driving in runs. In the 10 games since April 22, Howard has notched 12 RBI
and crossed the plate eight times himself, while his slugging percentage has
risen more than .150 points.

And don’t look now, but Howard may just be beginning to
creep into the league leaders in certain categories amidst this current assault.
He moved into a tie for seventh in the National League with 14 extra base hits, and his five bombs, 18
RBI and a .519 slugging all crack the top 25.

Yes, Howard has also struggled in some aspects. He's tied for 54th out of 91 qualifiers in the NL with a .319 on-base percentage, a byproduct of his drawing a mere six walks to date. The contact numbers clearly are not bad at all however.

His was not the only bat to put on a show for the 36,292 in
attendance, either. Chase Utley (6) and Domonic Brown (5) added solo blasts of their own.

The fireworks display coupled with good vibes at Citizens
are a positive sign. The Phillies feasted at home during the run of success from
2007 to ‘11, posting a 246-162 record – an impressive .603 winning percentage. Compare that to last season when they finished just one game above .500 in South Philly.

So far the Phils are only 7-8 this year when they have home-field
advantage, a number that likely must be in their favor if they are to reach the
playoffs. Call it a comfort level, call it the dimensions of the stadium. For whatever
the reason, this group can get on a serious roll in their own building.

Sooner or later they have to beat a few
teams besides the Marlins and Mets no matter where the contests are held, yet all
things considered the Phillies are not in bad shape. Both the Braves and Nationals
lost on Friday, which puts the good guys just 3.5 back of first place.

The core may be getting old, or even feel like they have
something left to prove, but Howard and his mates should try to loosen up more
often. Who knows, maybe his hopeless attempt at third will rub off on a few of the guys, and the Fightins might continue to play like they actually like this
baseball thing again.

Judging from the final results here, it couldn't possibly be a bad thing.

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>> Box Score [CBS]

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Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

TORONTO — First semester of college can often be a challenge for many students, but for Tanner Laczynski, the experience was a sweet one — literally. 

Part of Laczynski’s course load at Ohio State University was “Chocolate Science.” According to the course website, students receive an “introduction to science and business of chocolate. Students develop and market a chocolate product as part of a virtual company. Students taste commercial products.” 

Laczynski, who plans to declare his major in business in his second semester, got a lesson in chocolates from around the world during the course. 

“Chocolate Science wasn't bad,” Laczynski said with a laugh a few weeks ago. “All I did was eat chocolate and write a paper about it. There's lots of different chocolate, and they all taste good.” 

Growing up 43 miles outside of Chicago in Shorewood, Illinois, Laczynski wasn’t a big football fan, saying there wasn’t much to cheer for with respect to the Bears, but since relocating to the Buckeye State, he’s taken up interest in the local team. 

“That's a big part of it,” Laczynski said of attending OSU. “I've been to two games, they haven't been the strongest opponents so kind of blowouts.” 

Laczynski was in the middle of a nap when the Flyers used their sixth-round pick to select him on the second day of the 2016 NHL draft. He was admittedly startled to be woken up by his parents, Ken and Dawn, along with sister Payton and brother Hayden.

“I'd just gotten back home from coaching some kids, it was early in the morning, came back, took a nap and my parents were all excited,” Laczynski said. “I was still tired from my nap, but woke up pretty quick. 

“They just kind of attacked me so I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' at first. That was unbelievable and it's a moment I won't forget."

After a quick phone call from his agent, Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor and John Riley, in charge of player development in Philly, were on the phone to welcome Laczynski to the club. 

This season, the 19-year-old had six goals and 16 assists in 15 games prior to leaving to join Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships.  

The under-20 tournament is the third time Laczynski has represented the U.S. internationally. He also wore Team USA colors for the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and the under-19 World Junior A Challenge.

Through the first six games at the world juniors, Laczynski tallied one goal and an assist. He missed the semifinals against Russia because of an illness, but was in the lineup as the Americans defeated the Canadians 5-4 in a shootout to win gold.

Despite being just three months into his first year at OSU, the Flyers remain in constant communication with their prospect. 

“I talk to John Riley quite a bit, he's always in contact with me sending me game film and sending me clips of NHL highlights and stuff like that,” Laczynski said. “We keep in touch, it's a relationship and it's nice to keep in touch with him.”

During his freshman season, skating has been an area of focus for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward.

“I think my big thing is my first couple steps, just my quickness, stopping, getting back on it. I think that's my biggest thing,” he said. “Once I get that down, I feel like I have the speed, but just build an extra step, just improve on that, I think that'll be a tremendous help to my game.” 

Laczynski, who spent three seasons in the USHL prior to committing to the Buckeyes, said he tries to model his game after one-time Flyer Jaromir Jagr. 

“He's kind of the guy that I watched a lot just because of his puck protection and everything,” Laczynski said. “I try to kind of use my body to protect the puck down low and create some chances in the offensive zone. 

“He's got a really good stick — I try to watch that and have an active stick in the defensive zone and offensive zone, as well.” 

In his conversations with Riley and Pryor, the expectations for Laczynski are clear.

“Their goal for me is just to consistently play nine out of 10 nights instead of that seven out of 10 nights and get my game elevated a little bit more, play more consistently,” Laczynski said.

“I think that's the biggest thing.”

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

Eagles Stay or Go Part 3: Trey Burton to Vinny Curry

In the third of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 3 is Burton to Curry.

Trey Burton
Restricted free agent

Roob: Burton caught 14 passes the first nine games of the year and 23 the last six games of the year. One of the few Eagles who actually showed significant improvement as the year went on. He did drop a few too many passes, which is surprising for the usually sure-handed tight end. But overall Burton continued to progress and show signs that he can be a very good receiver in this offense. Burton isn’t a Zach Ertz, but there’s no reason he and Ertz can’t be a pretty potent 1-2 tight end punch. Burton will catch 50 passes next year and continue to improve as a blocker. A nice player who can do a lot of different things. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Burton had a career-high 37 catches in 2016 after having just three in his first three seasons. The Eagles would love to have Burton back next season, but they might not be able to afford it. They really have two options. One would be to use the lowest tender, which would allow teams to negotiate with him and sign him without compensation; that price would be about $1.8 million. Or they could place a second-round tender on him, which means any team that signs him would have to give the Eagles a second-round pick; that price would be around $2.75 million next season. If the Eagles place the original round (lowest) tender on him, which I see happening, other teams might be interested. The Eagles would then have the ability to match an offer, but how much money are they going to put into the tight end position? 

Verdict: GOES

Nolan Carroll
Unrestricted free agent

Roob: Carroll isn’t as bad as Nnamdi Asomugha or Byron Maxwell or Bradley Fletcher or even Leodis McKelvin, but he is yet another in a seemingly endless list of free-agent cornerbacks the Eagles have spent a fortune for that haven’t panned out. Carroll isn’t awful, but let’s be honest. He’s really not much of a playmaker, he gets beat way too often, he’s inconsistent and the Eagles need to get better at corner. Carroll is a free agent, and I don’t see any reason to re-sign him. He had just one interception this year, and 44 NFL cornerbacks had more. He’s just a guy, and the Eagles need more than that. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Carroll was brought back on a one-year deal for 2016 after he visited with the Cowboys. The deal wasn’t worth a ton — just over $2 million — so they could go with the same type of deal to bring him back for next season. But do they want to? Carroll didn’t have his best season and even admitted as much. It might be time to part ways and try to upgrade at the position long term. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: Celek isn’t going anywhere. Thanks to that somewhat mystifying three-year contract extension last offseason, he would count $6 million in dead money if the Eagles released him. As opposed to $2 million in salary. So Celek, who is still a capable blocker and catches just about everything he can get to, will be back for an 11th year in an Eagles uniform. I have no problem with Celek staying. He's been a tremendous Eagle on and off the field for a long, long time. It’s just the Eagles have so many weaknesses and then this glut of tight ends, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But at least they’re deep somewhere. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Yeah, $5 million is a big cap hit for a guy who has pretty much become a blocking tight end. With his new deal, though, the Eagles wouldn’t save money if they cut him. And they probably wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m not really one for keeping a guy just for leadership, but I think the Eagles want Celek to retire as an Eagle. If he can hold on for two more seasons, he’ll do that. 

Verdict: STAYS

Don Cherry

Roob: The former Villanova Wildcat will get a chance to impress during offseason workouts, but his most likely landing spot if he impresses is the practice squad. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Villanova linebacker spent most of the 2016 season on the Eagles’ practice squad, so he’s an unlikely candidate to make the 53-man roster in 2017. Still, he’ll be in training camp and get a chance to prove himself. Maybe he can hang on the practice squad another year. 

Verdict: GOES

Fletcher Cox
Cap hit: $9.4M

Roob: Cox was good this year but not as dominating as last year, and it will be interesting to watch how his career progresses as the huge base salaries start to kick in. Cox has a $9.4 million cap hit this year, $17.9 the following year and as high as $22 million in 2019 before dropping to $20.3 million, $17.2 million and $17.1 million. Needless to say, that is an unprecedented investment. The Eagles aren’t paying him to be good, they’re paying him to be one of the upper-echelon elite defensive players in the NFL, and this year, he just wasn’t on that level. He’s not going anywhere for a long time, but he has to be consistently better than he was this past season for that contract to be worth it. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A tough one here. Just kidding. Cox might have had a down season statistically, finishing with just 6½ sacks, but those stats don’t tell the whole story. Cox is still the most disruptive force on the Eagles’ defense and brings double teams all the time, which in theory should help his teammates. He needs to eventually find ways to beat those double teams and I think he will. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Cap hit: $9M

Roob: Curry’s another one who’s not going anywhere. You want to cut him after a disappointing 2½-sack season? Get ready for a $15 million dead money hit. That’s not happening. Curry’s five-year, $46.25 million contract looks like a mistake now, but the Eagles can’t get out from under it until 2018 at the earliest. Curry will be here for at least one more year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Curry got paid last offseason and didn’t have much to show for it in 2016. He signed a five-year extension worth $46.25 million and then went out and played just 43 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and had just 2½ sacks. That’s the same number of sacks Marcus Smith had in 2016. Curry had nine sacks in 2014 and has 10 in the other combined four years of his career. But that contract is just kicking in and he’s not going anywhere. 

Verdict: STAYS