Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Today's Gotta Be an Improvement Over Yesterday, Right?

Well we had one of those dreaded Philly
sports days yesterday. All three teams in action lost and lost ugly. On
the "Scary to No Big Deal" spectrum, the Flyers take up the scary mantle
because they continue to play down to inferior opponents, making us wonder if they've lost what made them superior, and of course, the playoffs begin next week. The Sixers fall somewhere in the middle in that they got smoked by the Celtics,
but it didn't sting quite as badly because even though we're amped up
for them to be in the playoffs, the expectations aren't quite as high
for them as the Flyers. Plus, the Celtics are undeniably good. The scary
element really is just in that they could be the team that the Sixers
face in round one. Then there's the Phillies, who were slammed back to
earth with a 7-1 loss to the Mets. The opening series sweep is
officially over, and the first loss of the season came to the hated
rival. Otherwise, no big deal, but it was annoying, especially given
that the Flyers were crapping the bed up in Ottawa something fierce, and
the Sixers had the look of the one-and-done many people already thought
they were. 

So what do you have for us, Wednesday? 

At least for the Phillies, there's the hope of seeing some good
baseball. If last night's loss, ugly as it was, shook you at all, you
can get out. I try not to be one of these Fannier Than Thou types, but
seriously, leave. This team is so good that I'm genuinely excited to see
its fifth starter pitch today. It's Phillies-Mets. Screw last night.
Last night is dead. If you got a schedule magnet, take a quick look and
see how dead last night is. The Phils lost on an awful weather night,
which is no excuse considering that it didn't seem to bother the Mets,
but for some reason it makes it easier to discount for me. 

With the staggered start times, I got to see Cole pitch in the first
inning, get into a little bad luck, then pitch his ass off to get out of
it. It felt great to see him work with two runners in scoring position
and David Wright at the plate. It felt as good as seeing the Flyers
score an early goal on the power play. Unfortunately, both teams crapped
out shortly thereafter. The Phillies get a shot to redeem immediately
themselves, with Joe Blanton (he of the World Series W and HR Blantons)
facing Mike Pelfrey tonight. And for me, that inning alone was enough of
a reminder that there's nothing to worry about with Cole, who just had a
rough night. We also saw a few more glimmers from the offense,
especially Jimmy Rollins' continued work from the three hole. How about
that bunt single and stolen base? That was f*cking awesome. 

Tonight's opposing starter got blasted in his debut, including giving up a grand slam on his way to an opening day loss. (Side
note for people who like to say that fourth starters play other teams'
fourth starters, etc.: We're in the second series of the season, and
already, we're seeing a fifth starter play the opening day guy for the
other team. It's fantastic that the Phils have four aces and a pretty
good fifth, but with them and throughout baseball, the matchups are
going to vary based on days off, injuries, and skipped starts.)
 

But the ass-whooping at the hands of the Mets last night could be a
blessing in disguise (if you're still following along with my
Flyers-shame-and-coffee-induced optimism). If you listened to what Charlie Manuel had to say last night after the loss,
he wasn't down in the face like Peter Laviolette was, and with good
reason for both. Charlie knows he has a great hand, but he also knows
that some competition from the Mets now and throughout the season could
be a good thing. The Flyers got complacent somewhere around the All-Star
Game, and look where they are at the moment. The same could happen to
the Phillies if they don't have competition in the standings. Even
before the season, it was looking like the NL East had improved
throughout its ranks. Some competition could be exactly what the Phils
need to keep their minds off the magazine covers and on the field. 

This group hasn't really had a problem with staying grounded, but
we're now entering a third straight season of very lofty expectations,
amplified by the re-addition of Cliff Lee. Even without Chase Utley for a
while, the expectations are no less than a World Series win. 

While I'm no bandwagon Flyers fan, it does help to ease the pain of
one team's loss to know I can just put on another's game the next night
and know they have a damn good shot at winning, even if it's fifth
starter night. The Union also play a US Open Cup game against the DC United
before a huge early season matchup with the Red Bulls at PPL Park on
Sunday. And yes, I'm still really looking forward to the NHL playoffs
and fully expecting this team to show up in the first round.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.