Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

Regarding Evan: A Chat With Michael Levin About the Sixers' Enigmatic New Starter

With second-year two-guard and recent starting-lineup fixture
Evan Turner's play in the last three games scintillating Sixers fans and
suddenly changing perspective on the entire season, I had no choice but
to turn to our old friend, Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers, to help us
make sense of the madness. We talked a whole lotta Extraterrestrial, as
well as some trade deadline stuff, and where the team goes from here.
Check it out, and as always, head over to LBs for some fantastic daily Sixer discussion.

Andrew: So with the possible exception of my roommate, I think
you're the only person I know as emotionally invested in the success of
Evan Turner as I am. Personally speaking, how happy have the last three
games made you?
 
Michael Levin, Liberty Ballers: Oh man. It's been a dream.
I've been watching most of the games at work due to the time difference,
so there have been many a fistpump at my desk that caught a few odd
looks from the coworkers. I'm just thrilled for him. Like, more than I
am for the Sixers, I'm happy for him.
 
Yeah, same.
 
I don't think I've ever wanted anyone to
succeed more than Turner at a professional level. And for him to
finally put it together, REALLY put it together, excites the s--- out of
me.

Were you surprised when you first heard he had been moved to the starting lineup? What do you think motivated the move?

It did seem kind of sudden. We got the Eskin tweet
about him starting and it was like, OK this could happen, and then it
was just over. They couldn't take him out of the starting lineup if both
his legs got cut off.

I haven't been Doug's biggest fan lately, but I totally agree with
what he said about prompting the move. The Sixers were doing really well
for a while with Jodie. If the goal is to win games (which it was for
the organization) then why mess with what's working? When it stopped
going so well, he made a change. Simple as that.

Still, it seemed like Turner had been in Collins' doghouse for a
while, and perhaps most of all the few games before the move. Don't buy
into the notion that maybe ownership muscled Collins into playing their
No.2 pick more?

I'm sure that was certainly a consideration. Ownership and Rod
Thorn probably had some - "let's see what he can give us" prompting for
Doug. But I don't think it was all them, same as I don't think it was
all Doug. He does what's best for the team to win games now. I have
problems with that on occasion, but I don't think it was a vendetta
against Turner that was keeping him out of games. Evan just wasn't
playing that well.

What were your thoughts after his first start, the 1-12 game in Milwaukee?

Haha,
well that wasn't exactly ideal. But he was rebounding, as he always
had, and that's a seriously tangible skill. Rebounds are good. We like
them. So even if he's missing from the field, he's valuable in that
regard. Maybe not that valuable if he's 1-12 every night, but there's
more to his game than just scoring, which is why I think he'll be a
fairly complete player even without a reliable outside shot. Though the
shot has been beautiful in the last three.

What's impressed you more in Evan's three games since, the scoring or the rebounding?

Scoring.
I mean, we knew he could rebound. Before those three games, he was
still the best wing rebounder in the league. Now he's just lengthened
his lead. He's better at finishing and absorbing contact than he had
been during his pro career thus far, and the last three games he's shown
an array of moves to get to the basket and get fouled while putting up
shots that have a chance to go in. I think he's had 3-4 And-1's during
the recent stretch. That's so valuable for a team that has a lot of
trouble getting to the line.

It seems like he's sort of a rhythm scorer, too. Is it possible
that just getting off the bench had been the answer for Evan all along,
that he couldn't really do what he does best in limited bench minutes?

Yeah, he's not good in spurts. We saw that for 1.5 years. He
needs to get in rhythm, find out how to exploit the defense, and
dominate the ball. I think he'll continue to get better off-the-ball the
longer he's in, but right now, he's most effective handling himself and
occasionally using his teammates. The double teams that will eventually
come are going to help him rack up assists also.

That swoop-and-pull crossover move that gets him space for a
fadeaway jumper—could you see that being a trademark move for ET in the
years to come?

I hope not. I'm not a huge fan of that move,
unless he starts faking that way and drives past his over-committing
man. He's never going to be a great jumpshooter and I'd rather he not
rely so heavily on an off-balance shot for getting his points.
 
The jumper has looked better in recent games, though.
 
It's
been gorgeous. Fading away off the dribble just isn't effective over a
long period of time. He may make a few now, but that's not a repeatably
good shot.

Let's talk about the rebounding for a minute. I remember when
Turner was on draft boards, the one risk people mentioned with him was
that despite his all-around game, he lacked that one defining elite
skill that was guaranteed to translate to the pros. Is rebounding that
one defining elite skill for Evan?

Yeah, I mean rebounding translates. That's maybe the only thing
in the world that NBA people agree upon. And he's been awesome his whole
career at getting rebounds. Sometimes he's steals those rebounds from
his teammates, but I, uh, don't really mind that at all. But at the same
time, Evan is such a unique player. He can't really be categorized
because he's so unique. He's got some old school craftiness to him that
makes up for his lack of elite athleticism.

I don't think he'll ever be one of the 10 best players in the
league, but his understanding of the game and overall well-roundedness
that makes him so difficult to defend will propel him to some pretty
special places.

Despite worries that that well-roundedness would make too much of
an overlap with Andre Iguodala, it seems like he and 'Dre have found a
nice chemistry on the court as co-starters thusfar. Do you expect that
continue, or do you harbor any worries about the team's two flex players
being redundant?

They're definitely redundant. There's no question that they
share much of the same skills. But Andre's jumper has been bafflingly,
happily, absolutely lethal this year and that helps them co-exist. You
could certainly find a few more perfect pairings than Dre/ET but they're
both talented enough to make it work. I think even more awesome plays
are still to come.

So Jrue/Evan/Dre from here on out, then? Can it work out in the long-term?

JTI
is definitely the future. Barring something completely unforeseen,
that's your starting 1/2/3 for the next 3 years. The rest of the time
will be spent trying to find a 4/5 that compliments them. A stretch four
would be beautiful and a defensive-minded center that can score inside
wouldn't hurt either. Basically, Ryan Anderson and Dwight Howard. I'll
call Orlando.
 
I think with something similar, they're a championship contender in 2 years.

So
you think the success that Evan (and by extension, the Sixers w/ ET in
the starting lineup) has had is sustainable? This isn't just a fluke
that'll come down in hard regression soon enough?

I don't think I'm ready to book tickets to his Hall of Fame
induction but I think he's where he needs to be. He's being set up in
the situation that's best for his skills and is surrounded by guys that
are just as talented as he is. There will be off-shooting nights but the
things he does well, he will continue to do well - that's good enough
to keep him in our good graces.

Are you worried at all about his mental state moving forward as
the spotlight continues to shine brighter on him? Mystery problems
reported by Stan Hochman and stories about their days as Ohio State
teammate from Mark Titus' recent book don't exactly paint Turner as the
most stable of NBA dudes.

I'm extremely unworried. He's been in the spotlight at OSU and
shined and faced a ton of adversity as a Sixer already. He's bouncing
back nicely and I don't think any talk from a 143 year old reporter or
an annoying blogger teammate should worry anyone. He's still a kid,
there's obviously people that don't like him and people he doesn't like.
I'm concerned with basketball. He's not DeMarcus Cousins. He's a good
guy and, by all accounts lately, a good teammate.

It seems like the rest of the guys are pumped about his recent success.
 
Yeah you can tell they're rooting for him also. Except maybe Meeks, and even he's saying all the right things.

Speaking
of Meeks, is this the last we see of him? Collins had success with a
shorter rotation against the Knicks, is that something we see more of as
the season advances?

He went shorter rotation because he could - they had a rare few
days off between games and he could afford to run his main guys for
longer. It's still the lockout-shortened season so tired legs are a
concern. I can see Lavoy getting pushed out of the rotation but
Vuce/Lou/Meeks/Thad are going to be the 4 off the bench for significant
time each game once Hawes gets back.

Assuming we do get a healthy Hawes back—with Spence's return and
Evan's ascent, does this change our post-season prospects at all, do you
think? Or are you still saying four seed, first-round win and
second-round bust?

I'm a little more optimistic than I was last time we spoke, but I
think that's because the Evan Turner shine hasn't worn off yet.
Presuming Hawes can be a serviceable player the rest of the year, they
could hang with a 2nd round team depending on matchup. I don't think
they can beat Miami, but anyone else is possible. If it's Chicago, I
could see them going to 7 games and getting lucky. Turner's the
X-factor. Nobody knows how could he's going to be. The past three games,
he's been phenomenal. If that continues, there's no telling where this
team can go.

Safely though, I'll stick with a first round win and a second round
loss. But with the Turner improvements, that's a good sign for next
season and bringing in some extremely useful parts in the offseason.
 
So with the trade deadline tomorrow—we don't expect the team to do anything, right?

I
feel like I'm always disappointed with the team when I'm hoping they
make a move but there's still some possibilities running around in my
head. Noce's expiring, Speights' trade exception, and a few 2nd round
picks make me hoping for a minor move or two. Some people are hoping for
a Lou Williams trade, but I can't imagine them dealing him even though
he'll likely opt out this offseason. I'd put it at a 50% chance of them
making a small move.

Any dream scenarios? Not including Dwight Howard, natch.
 
Without
looking, something like Lou/Noce/1st for Favors or Kanter. That would
assume that Utah loves Lou (they probably don't) and have the money to
re-sign him. I can't imagine the Jazz don't want to move one of their 4
talented big men for a point guard and while I don't feel like Lou is a
point guard, perchance Utah does. This was a dream scenario, so it
doesn't have to have a basis in reality!

As an avowed coveter of high-upside big men, even those who come
at risk, were you a little jealous about the Warriors trading for Andrew
Bogut today? Especially when we didn't hear word one about the Sixers
getting in the mix for the Bucks' talented center?

Not really. I thought the injury risk was too high, actually,
and I've never been in love with Bogut. Strangely, this doesn't bother
me with Oden (I'd still gamble on him - I think I'm hopelessly in love),
but Bogut never struck me as a franchise cornerstone. Now a healthy
Bogut would be the best big on the Sixers and fit perfectly with JTI,
but it's been some time since he was healthy and I wouldn't want them to
give up the pieces it would take to bring Bogut in for an unhealthy
version of him.

Going back to Turner for one more question—why do you think it is
that writers/fans like you and I live and die with every one of his
jumpers? Is it just that we want him to meet the expectations of a No. 2
pick, or is it something about him personally?

For me it's both. The fact that he doesn't look or sound like
your stereotypical baller is endearing somehow and it didn't hurt that
the draft in which we picked Turner was the first draft I covered for
Liberty Ballers. Meeting him in the elevator on the way up to Media Day
pretty much cemented my love for him right then and there. And yes,
since we're pining for him to be the best player of all time, each
jumper that goes in feels like some sort of grand vindication for all
the slack he took from the people who jumped so quickly to their
conclusions about him.

Also, he tweets about dumb cable movies and has very informed opinions about Backstreet Boys vs. N Sync.
 
Michael: Which certainly helps him with the teenie bopper crowd.

Last Q: Any predictions for Pacers/Sixers tonight, either for the team or for Evan?
 
I'm thinking the Sixers, with two days off, will ride some
Turner momentum into a win, but Hawes' return and a pesky Indiana team
certainly aren't a cakewalk. I just don't think they're very good from
the eye test, but everything else says otherwise so I'm probably taking
them lightly. If they faced off against the Celtics, Magic, or Knicks in
the first round, I'd pick them to lose. I'm not a Pacers believer.
 
Another prediction: Evan Turner scores 53 points and delivers a baby on court.

One
more bonus Q I forgot to ask: If the Reign of Turner continues, have
you guys at LBs thought of any good "Linsanity"-style nicknames for it?
 
I've been trying! Here's some that I came up with [on Twitter] which will gain absolutely no steam:
 
#TurnermentTime #InTurnermentCamp #InturnermittentlyAwesome #Turrrrrrrrrneriffic #ChinkInTheTurner
 
#EVANscerated #EVANescance #EVANgelical #EVANquished #DarthEVANder #MassEVANffect and things like that.

There's a good one out there. We'll find it.
 
I'm on the case.

Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

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Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

Phillies (25-20) at Tigers (22-22)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies actually lost a one-run game. 

Their six-game road trip started off with a 5-4 loss Monday night — which makes them 14-4 in one-run games — against a Tigers lineup that showed just how much power it has. Miguel Cabrera homered twice, and J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos added solo shots of their own. It was an all-around rough night for Phillies pitchers, but they have a chance to even the series tonight at Comerica Park.

Let's take a look at the matchup:

1. Keep 'em in the park
Comerica Park favors pitchers more than hitters, but the Tigers and Phillies made it look small on Monday, hitting a combined six home runs. Oddly enough, all were solo shots.

Jeremy Hellickson hopes tonight for more success than Vince Velasquez had Monday. Hellickson struggled with the home run ball earlier in the year, allowing nine in his first seven starts. He didn't allow one in either of his last two starts, but the Marlins and Reds aren't as loaded offensively as the Tigers.

Detroit has clicked at the plate over the last week, belting 17 home runs over its last six games. J.D. Martinez has three of them and Cabrera has five. With those two batting second and third, Hellickson needs to be sharp in the first inning. 

The opening frame has been a problem for Hellickson all season — his opponents have hit .289 with an .883 OPS, six doubles and a homer. His first-inning ERA is 7.00 this season and 5.75 over the last two.

2. Changes from Hellickson
He enters 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA. Over his last two starts, Hellickson's given up just two earned runs in 13 innings, putting 11 men on base and striking out 13. He's faced 57 batters since last allowing a home run for his longest homerless streak of the season.

What's been the biggest difference for Hellickson in his last two starts? He's turned to his changeup, his best pitch, more often with two strikes. In his first seven outings, Hellickson threw the changeup 18 percent of the time with two strikes. His last two starts, he's thrown it 48 percent of the time with two strikes. It's completely fooled the opposition, which is 0 for 17 with 11 strikeouts against Hellickson's changeup over that span.

Hellickson has by far the highest swing-and-miss rate of changeups in all of baseball with 57 in 184 pitches (31 percent).

Look for Hellickson to continue utilizing that pitch tonight. Here are some of the Tigers' numbers this season against right-handed changeups:

Cabrera: 1 for 11
Castellanos: 1 for 10
Justin Upton: 1 for 7
J.D. Martinez: 0 for 7

Current Tigers are 30 for 95 (.316) lifetime against Hellickson. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has done the most damage, going 8 for 25 with three doubles, three homers and five walks. Cabrera is 4 for 11 with a homer. Upton is 5 for 13 with two doubles and two homers.

3. Not the same Verlander
Now 33, Justin Verlander is not the same fireballer he was in his prime. In 2011, the year he won AL Cy Young and MVP, his fastball averaged 95 mph. This season, the pitch has averaged a career-low 92.1. 

Here's a look at the difference for Verlander's pitches the last three seasons compared to his peak of 2009 to 2012:

2009-12
Fastball: .254 opponents' batting average
Curveball: .152
Changeup: .196
Slider: .209

2014-present
Fastball: .263
Curveball: .248
Changeup: .275
Slider: .227

His pitches just haven't had the same life and bite as they once did. We've seen this happen to a number of former aces over the last few seasons: Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay. When the decline happens, it happens fast, especially for guys who pitch so many innings every year. It's not as drastic for some as it is for others. King Felix has been able to remain effective despite diminished velocity by mastering his offspeed pitches. That's something Lincecum, Cain and Sabathia have been unable to do.

Verlander is sort of in between. Since the start of 2014, he's 23-24 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 61 starts. He hasn't been horrible but hasn't been great either.

This season, Verlander is 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA. He's struck out 60 and walked 20 in 57 innings. He's on a roll entering tonight's game, having allowed just four runs over his last 22⅓ innings with 27 strikeouts.

Current Phillies have only 34 career at-bats against Verlander and 18 belong to David Lough. Ryan Howard and Andres Blanco are 0 for 3, Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 2 and Peter Bourjos is 1 for 8.

4. Franco breaking out?
Maikel Franco has had back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time since April 22-23, when he hit three home runs and drove in seven in the first two games of a series in Milwaukee.

Is he finally breaking out of his lengthy slump? Every time over the last few weeks that it's looked like it, he's followed with a few hitless games. 

Franco does appear to be seeing the ball better, though. He's walked just 11 times all season but four have come in his last seven games. In his last five, he's reached base nine times in 19 plate appearances with a double and a homer.

5. This and that
• Odubel Herrera, who was pulled from Monday's game for not hustling out a groundball, has followed an 0-for-11 skid by going 5 for 7 in his last two games. He's batting .335, and his .901 OPS is 10th among all NL outfielders, ahead of guys like Starling Marte, Hunter Pence, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez.

• Herrera's five errors lead all MLB centerfielders. Nobody else has more than two.

• Colton Murray's soaking up three innings last night allowed David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez to rest despite Velasquez's recording just 12 outs. Hernandez has had two full days off. Getting these guys some rest will be crucial moving forward. Neris is on pace for 86 appearances, Gomez 83 and Hernandez 72. Last season, only one reliever in the majors (St. Louis' Kevin Siegrist) had 80-plus appearances.

• Tommy Joseph entered Monday 0 for 7 with four strikeouts against right-handed pitching, but he had a double and a homer off Mike Pelfrey. 

• Ryan Howard is 4 for 52 (.077) with 22 strikeouts over his last 18 games. His .156 batting average ranks last among 180 qualifying major-leaguers and his .226 OBP is 177th.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 3: Brandon Manning to Michael Raffl

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 3: Brandon Manning to Michael Raffl

In the third of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found by clicking the links. Today, we begin with Brandon Manning.

Brandon Manning
2015-16 stats: 56 GP, 1 G, 6 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: I don’t see Manning as a long-term fit here — he’s a restricted free agent — but he showed enough this past season to stick around another year. If a prospect beats him out in training camp, so be it. If not, he’s a good placemat until one of them is ready to take the reins.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Manning, an inexpensive pending restricted free agent, will be back next season. Is he a long-term answer on the Flyers’ blue line? I can’t say he is, but Ron Hextall liked his growth and the soon-to-be 26-year-old is capable enough to keep a defensive spot warm before the prospects arrive.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Manning isn’t in the category of one of those guys to build around. In fact, he’ll already be 26 in just over a week. But Manning was very good in his third-pair role alongside Radko Gudas late last season and proved he can stick. He’s a RFA, but proved he should be back, at least in the short term. He’ll be fine again in the same role or valuable NHL-ready depth if someone ahead of him is hurt or fails to play well enough to stay in the lineup. Odds are he’s with the big club in some capacity when the season begins.

Verdict: STAY

Steve Mason
2015-16 stats: 23-19-10, 2.51, .918 SV%; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.1 mm cap hit

Dougherty: We touched on this two weeks ago. Mason is the starting goalie, though Michal Neuvirth will push him even more than he did this season come September. But that’s OK. Mason led the Flyers to the playoffs with terrific goaltending down the stretch before running out of gas. There’s no reason to move him this summer. Some teams envy the Flyers’ goalie situation. I’m sure if you call the Dallas Stars, they’ll tell you the same thing.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: I’ve said I believe the Flyers would benefit greatly from trading one of their two No. 1 goalies before they can become unrestricted free agents following the 2016-17 season. I feel Mason has a better chance than Michal Neuvirth at sticking in Philadelphia down the road. The man who carried the Flyers’ torch into the playoffs is more proven and less injury-prone.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: As Tom and Jordan mentioned, we tackled the goalie question in an End to End last week. I mentioned there I am of the belief that the Flyers don’t have a No. 1 goalie, nor do they have a No. 2 goalie. They have two very good goaltenders whom they have the utmost confidence in when either is between the pipes on a given night.  And they’ll need both again next season as both have had injury issues. Some will only remember how Mason’s season ended with a thud in the playoffs against Washington and not how he put the Flyers on his back down the stretch and led them to the playoffs. And that’s just not fair. But Mason will be back. Now’s not the time to move either goalie, especially when Mason and Michal Neuvirth’s contracts are both up after next season. Let the goalie prospects, specifically Anthony Stolarz in Lehigh Valley, get some more seasoning and reassess the situation at the end of next season.

Verdict: STAY

Colin McDonald
2015-16 stats: 5 GP, 1 G, 0 A; Contract: Signed through 2017-18, $637,500 cap hit

Dougherty: McDonald proved himself to be a very valuable AHL player last season. He played a few games during the regular season with the Flyers, and a couple in the playoffs. I really liked the energy he brought and wouldn’t hate to see him on the NHL roster. But they need scoring, and he’s really just another role player. He signed an extension mid-season, so he’ll head back to Lehigh Valley.

Verdict: GO

Hall: McDonald had a leadership impact at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and served the Flyers as a reliable insurance policy. His experience is valuable within the organization, but much more so with the Phantoms full-time, being available for the Flyers when needed.
 
Verdict
: GO

Paone: Depth is so valuable, not just at the NHL level, but throughout the entire organization. And depth player is the category McDonald, a veteran forward, falls into. He’s a guy with a physical edge who can be called up at a moment’s notice and fill almost any role that’s asked of him. Don’t expect him to make the big club out of camp, barring injuries or anything else unforeseen. So that’s why I’ll say go. But don’t be surprised if he’s among the first names on the call-up list during season.

Verdict: GO

Evgeny Medvedev
2015-16 stats: 45 GP, 4 G, 9 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: I like Medvedev’s game, but he didn’t work out. Hextall brought him over from Russia on a one-year deal and while I’ve seen some say it’s Hextall’s worst move as GM, it was not a bad move.  Overall, Medvedev wasn’t a killer on the ice. In fact, he didn’t make a ton of mistakes, but when he did, it would be a big one and lead to Hakstol benching him. He’s a puck-moving defenseman and NHL teams need them. His legal troubles could be a deterrent for teams, though. If he wants to continue playing in North America, he'll have to look elsewhere.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Medvedev brought an intriguing offensive game but struggled in his own zone. To be frank, though, there’s no way he returns. Medvedev turns 34 in August, will be an unrestricted free agent and faces legal trouble following an arrest shortly after the Flyers’ playoff exit.
 
Verdict: GO

Paone: Ron Hextall took a no-risk flier (no pun intended, I promise – I just couldn’t think of a better word) on the 33-year-old Russian defenseman last summer. And while Medvedev showed flashes at certain points, his lack of playing time at the end of the season was telling that the marriage just wasn’t going to work out. Getting his cap hit off the books puts a nice chunk of change in the Flyers’ pocket. Plus, his recent legal issues certainly don’t help his cause of returning to Philadelphia. He just seems ticketed for a return home to Russia and the KHL.

Verdict: GO

Michal Neuvirth
2015-16 stats: 18-8-4, 2.27, .924 SV%; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $1.625 mm cap hit

Dougherty: See above. Neither goaltender is leaving. A Mason-Neuvirth tandem puts the Flyers in good hands. Both have injury history, too, so keeping both makes a ton of sense. Neuvirth was signed here last summer to push Mason and give the Flyers a solid backup. He proved to be far more than that. As noted above, he’ll push Mason even harder this season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Neuvirth carries solid trade stock and will be a nice card for the Flyers to play up until the deadline. I could see Hextall pulling off a surprising move this offseason but, more than likely, the Flyers will have both their goalies entering the 2016-17 season.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: Neuvirth played extremely well last season when healthy. He was sterling in his three playoff starts. But healthy is the key word there as his troubling career arc of not being able to stay healthy at key moments continued. But he’ll be back. Why? See that Mason part above. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Verdict: STAY

Michael Raffl
2015-16 stats: 82 GP, 13 G, 18 A; Contract: Signed through 2019-20, $2.35 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Raffl isn’t going anywhere. He signed an extension before the trade deadline last season, as Hextall decided extending Raffl made more sense than moving him. He’s well-liked in the room and has enough skill to move up-and-down the lineup. He’s a keeper.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Raffl is coming off a quietly good season in which he was the only Flyer to play all 82 regular-season games while compiling a plus-9 rating, best among the team’s regulars. And, of course, he signed an extension, so he’s here to stay.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: This is an easy one as Raffl, recently a pending unrestricted free agent, signed a three-year extension just prior to the trade deadline. The question isn’t whether he stays. It’s where he plays. If  history is any indication, there might not be a rock-solid answer to that as Raffl has moved from wing to center and line to line numerous times. He’s like the Flyers’ version of a Swiss Army Knife.

Verdict: STAY

Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

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Ryan Howard's miserable May continues as Tigers out-power Phillies

DETROIT — Back when they were racking up National League East titles and filling Citizens Bank Park night after night, the Phillies could slug with anyone.
 
Those days are gone.
 
So even on a night when they got some power from two young up-and-comers in their lineup, the Phillies still couldn’t get enough to match up with the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.
 
“We don’t have enough pop to go blow for blow with them,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
The Tigers belted four home runs, three against starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, in beating the Phillies, 5-4, at Comerica Park (see Instant Replay).
 
Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph both homered for the Phillies, but Ryan Howard, no longer even close to the player he was during those aforementioned title years, slipped deeper into the May quicksand. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .156 on the season. He is 4 for 48 (.083) in the month of May.
 
“Man, it’s been brutal,” Howard said after the game. “I’m not going to lie. I need some breaks, man. It’s been tough. I’ve hit some balls hard, but they’re not finding any real estate out there.
 
“I have to keep grinding and swinging. Luckily, it’s still early to get it turned around.”
 
Yes, it’s early for some guys.
 
But it might not be that early for Howard. He’s 36 and in the final year of his contract. His slump has coincided with Joseph’s ascension from the minors. Joseph played first base Monday night and looked good at the position. In addition to hitting a game-tying homer in the sixth, he had a double. Half of his six hits in his first seven games in the majors have been for extra bases.
 
Joseph will continue to play first base while Howard serves as the designated hitter in the final two games of the interleague series in Detroit. After that, Joseph is expected to start against lefty Jon Lester in Chicago on Friday. If he keeps hitting — and Howard keeps struggling — the situation could be ripe for Mackanin to continue to play Joseph, even against the right-handers Howard usually sees.
 
“I'm going to look at it a week at a time,” Mackanin said. “We'll see. At some point it might come to that, but I can't say it's imminent.”
 
If Howard starts spending more time on the bench, it will be part of a downhill progression that started in the second half of last season when he became a platoon player. Will a progression to the bench ultimately lead to his being released in the coming weeks? Well, if Joseph keeps hitting and continues to earn playing time, management may have to seriously ponder the move.
 
Even with Franco and Joseph hitting home runs, the Phillies didn’t have enough to match the Tigers’ thunder.
 
Miguel Cabrera belted two home runs and in the seventh inning clubbed his 500th career double. He then came around to score the go-ahead run on a single by Victor Martinez.
 
Entering the game, the Tigers were among the top teams in the American League in batting average (.265), runs per game (4.60), homers (56) and OPS (.758).
 
Meanwhile, the Phillies couldn’t get much lower in offense. They ranked near the bottom in the National League in batting average (.233), runs per game (3.23), homers (32) and OPS (.651).
 
“You look up and down their lineup on the scoreboard and it looks like everybody is hitting .300 with eight or 10 home runs,” Mackanin said. “It can be daunting.
 
“The middle of their lineup hurt us with the long ball. We knew they were swinging the bats well lately. They weren’t earlier. Now they’re swinging well and we couldn’t contain them.
 
“We got 12 hits of our own. But they’ve got a lot of power on that team.”
 
The Phillies are at the start of a challenging trip — three in Detroit followed by three against the Cubs in Wrigley Field. The Cubs have the majors’ best record. The Phillies, a surprising four games over .500, will be tested on this trip.
 
They did not pass the first test. Velasquez had trouble commanding his pitches and for the second straight start ran a high pitch count. He took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the fifth, but it evaporated quickly under the weight of homers by J.D. Martinez and Cabrera. Reliever Colton Murray also gave up a homer in the inning. He also allowed the go-ahead run in the seventh as Mackanin held David Hernandez back in case the Phils got a lead.
 
“Velasquez didn’t have any command of his secondary pitches, pretty basic stuff, and he left some fastballs over the plate,” Mackanin said. “You have to throw quality pitches to a lineup like this. If you make mistakes against them, they don’t miss. If you don’t command your secondary pitches against good hitters, they become like sharks and smell blood and hit the fastball.”
 
Velasquez said he should have gotten the loss, not Murray.
 
“You can’t shy away from hitters and I did that,” he said. “You’ve got to pitch inside. I pitched around them.
 
“I’ve got to do something about this. I’ve got to challenge hitters.”