Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

Can Domonic Brown Save the Crappiest Philly Sports Year of the Century?

You don't need me or anyone else to tell you that there hasn't been a lot to cheer for this year in the city of Brotherly Love. The NFL playoffs occurred without the 4-12 Eagles even qualifying as an afterthought, the much-anticipated seasons for the Flyers and Sixers both ended disastrously, and over a third into the baseball season the Phillies are three games under .500, which is actually still a way better record than their run differential says it should be. Unless things get turned around in a big way for the Phils, 2013 will be the first calendar year of this century without Philly being involved in a single playoff game in any of the four major sports.

When your teams aren't winning, and it gets past the point where winning even really does your team any good, you need another reason to get emotionally invested--preferably one a little less depressing than tanking for draft positioning. The best reason to watch a losing team is if they have a breakout player--a guy who gives you hope for the future and makes things a little exciting in the present. Through about 40 games for the Phils, though, such a player seemed unlikely to emerge from the roster, and we were stuck with holding out for a healthy Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz doing damage in the lineup together, and getting to watch Cliff Lee do his thing every fifth start. It wasn't a lot to work with.

Then came Domonic Larun Brown. Technically, he'd been there all along, but somewhere along the line (ahem) the switch flipped from "tantalizing maybe-prospect" to "2001 Barry Bonds," and now he's not just the best hitter in the Phillies lineup--for the past two weeks, he's been the best hitter in the National League, and up there with Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera for the best in all of baseball. In those two weeks, he's hit .400 with nine homers and 23 RBIs, scoring 12 runs and even stealing three bases. In the blink of an eye, he's gone from being a fringe starter to an obvious All-Star, and someone who would probably be getting mid-season MVP consideration if his on-base percentage and defense were a tad bit better. (He has walked already this month, though. Twice!)

It's unbelievable to watch. As a result, the Phillies have gone from "eh, I'll watch them if I'm home and not doing anything else" to "OH CRAP DID I REMEMBER TO SET THE DVR??" You don't want to miss a single Domonic Brown at bat these days, because there's always a pretty good chance he'll do something like he did in the first inning of yesterday's game, where he crushed a Mike Fiers 3-1 fastball (at least I think it was supposed to be a fastball) into like the seventh deck for a three-run homer, his league-leading 16th on the season. It's not even the least bit surprising anymore--hell, if he had laced an RBI single to right instead, it would've almost been a disappointment.

It's been a little while since a Phillie, or really any Philly athlete, was this exciting to watch. Maybe Claude Giroux last season, definitely Michael Vick in his first year with the Birds, probably Ryan Howard during his 58-homer MVP run in 2006. Even if he doesn't produce anymore all season--and he's been so hot that once he cools off, it seems terrifyingly possible that he'll go through a slump nearly as ice-cold to compensate--Domonic belongs in that class now for the run he's had the last few weeks, and really the last month, making good on every positive long-term projection made of him that we had been squinting so hard to see in the man himself during his first three seasons of sporadic play in the big leagues.

Is it enough to save the 2013 year in Philly sports? Will we look back on this year not as the year of Andrew Bynum and Ilya Bryzgalov making all their headlines outside of gametime, of Andy Reid and possibly Charlie Manuel running their course in Philly, of the playoffs in all four sports going on without any home team to root for--but instead, as the year Dom Brown broke out as the next Philadelphia pro sports superstar? If he keeps it up, it's not impossible. How much fun would it be to watch him put on a show at this year's home run derby, to endure countless silly "Harper vs. Brown: Who would you rather have for the next five years?" debates, to be able to chant "M-V-P!" at him in August and September and have it be at least a slightly credible proposition? It'd wash a whole lot of the bad taste out of my mouth, for sure.

My roommate is a Mets fan, and as much fun as it is and has been for the last five years to make fun of him for it, I have envied this year that he at least had Matt Harvey starts to look forward to, that the team had a talent so electric that his presence alone could make a game a must-watch, and make every home game he pitched in feel like a playoff game. Now, the Phils have a player of their own like that, whose raw power and ability to put on a show makes you feel lucky to be a Phillies fan, regardless of how lousy their record is (and how much worse it probably should be). In this most dire of Philly sports years, we should be very grateful to the Domonator for that.

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

End to End: Which 1 move will Flyers most likely make at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

Today’s question: Which one move is most likely at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline?
 
Dougherty
There has been a lot of chatter about why the Flyers should sell at Wednesday's trade deadline. They won't be buying. Sell is the wrong word here. The Flyers are not selling and changing course. They are not trading Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and starting over. Instead, the next logical step in the rebuild is to shed an expiring contract and open up a spot for a kid.

It just so happens the Flyers have three expiring contracts on defense, and one player comes to mind who would be attractive to contending teams and also paves the way for a defenseman at Lehigh Valley to gain some valuable NHL experience the rest of the season.

That player is Mark Streit, a 39-year-old puck-moving defenseman who can help a team's power play and provide some veteran leadership to boot. Streit has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning he has a list of 10 teams he can be traded to, but that should not be a roadblock in moving him. He'll be a free agent on July 1 and a playoff run is far more attractive than wasting away the final two months of the season in mediocrity.

Streit does have a high cap hit ($5.25 million), but the Flyers could retain some of it. He comes off the books on July 1 and a rental for an acquiring team anyway. The cap hit would not be a deal-breaker here. That is an easy hurdle to clear in this situation.

There are valid arguments against trading Streit, and moving, say, Michael Del Zotto, another attractive expiring contract. Streit is a veteran voice in the Flyers' room and respected within the organization. He's still a valuable piece here. In a perfect world, general manager Ron Hextall can shed both Streit and Del Zotto and open up two spots on the blue line, clearing the way for two (2!) Phantoms defensemen to get some experience.

But, trading Streit is the one move I see as most likely to happen before Wednesday's deadline. Acquire a draft pick for Streit and call up Robert Hagg or Sam Morin. In this scenario, the bet here would be on Hagg. And remember, it's not selling, it's the next step.
 
Hall
Before the season, I was a big believer in trading one of the Flyers' goalies at the March 1 deadline.

Now, it makes even more sense in a season that appears to be headed for not much of anything.

Why hold on to two goalies set for unrestricted free agency when you'll almost certainly lose at least one for absolutely nothing this offseason? 

Michal Neuvirth turns 29 next month, as does Steve Mason in May. Both are having down seasons, but are still tradable and capable goalies -- whether it be in a starter's role or backup duty.

Is either goalie the Flyers' future when the team is ready for contention?

The orange and black are stocked with goaltending prospects in Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom. Stolarz got a small taste of the NHL earlier this season and could more than hold down the second-string fort the rest of 2016-17. When the offseason comes, then you worry about what's next between the pipes.

But right now, one of the most rational decisions for the Flyers at the trade deadline would be moving a goalie. Neuvirth currently carries a more reasonable cap hit at $1.625 million, while Mason is at $4.1 million. Make a tough decision and start prepping more for the road ahead.

I think a trade can and should be done by Wednesday.

Paone
Thanks to injury and Dave Hakstol's recent emphasis on defensive structure, Del Zotto hasn't been in the Flyers' lineup much recently. Del Zotto is now healed from the lower-body injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks, so the part about an emphasis on defensive structure is important here when talking about his status with the Flyers.

Del Zotto has never been a defense-first type player. His strength is clearly his offensive ability. But unfortunately for Del Zotto, that's just not what the Flyers need out of their defensemen these days. So it should be no surprise he has slid down Hakstol's depth chart as the need for his role has decreased dramatically. But there are plenty of teams out there, contending ones, too, that could use some offensive punch on the blue line and on the power play. Del Zotto has played in only 30 games this season with four goals and six assists and is a role player these days, but there's a role for him somewhere out there. It's just not in Philadelphia anymore.

His $3.875 million cap hit is a bit steep, but he's a UFA at season's end, so it will come off the books. That should make a team much more willing to take a chance on Del Zotto and his cap in exchange for a draft pick, which Hextall values. Plus, he's not likely to be back here next year anyway, as the Flyers will likely start infusing more of the defensive talent they have in the minors into the big club. So might as well get something for him while you can. Contending teams can never have too much depth and those teams like to build depth through the trade market at this time of year. There's a fit somewhere out there for Del Zotto before the March 1 trade deadline.

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

Phillies 10, Blue Jays 3: Jeremy Hellickson limbers up, offense continues to hit

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Jeremy Hellickson did not shine in his spring debut Sunday, but he didn’t have to.

Hellickson projects to be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second straight year, but with five weeks to go before it all starts for real in Cincinnati, he has plenty of time to put a coat of polish on his game.

The right-hander knocked off some wintertime rust with two innings of work against the Toronto Blue Jays. He gave up four hits and two runs, walked one and did not strike out a batter.

"I felt great," Hellickson said. "I wasn't really commanding the fastball like I wanted, but my arm and my body felt good."

Hellickson went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season and could have opted for free agency in the offseason. However, he surveyed the marketplace and determined he'd be better off taking the Phillies' qualifying offer of $17.2 million for 2017 and trying his luck on the free-agent market next season.

So he's betting on himself.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

The Phillies can't give Hellickson another qualifying offer after this season so it's quite possible they will look to deal him in July. But that won't necessarily be easy. The Phils had talks with a number of teams about Hellickson last July and were unable to consummate a deal. It will be tougher this July as Hellickson’s salary has jumped by $10 million. The Phillies may have to eat some of that salary to get a deal they like.

Hellickson was asked if he was ready for another summer of trade rumors.

"No," he said with a wry smile. "But I know it's coming."

He's holding out hope that the Phillies will play their way into contention and the front office keeps the rotation together. He believes it's possible.

"I think we have a really good team here," he said. "Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the deadline.

"I've been reading some stuff saying (Aaron) Nola is a No. 5 guy. If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong innings every time out. Then with the guys, we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

The game
The Phillies beat the Jays, 10-3, on the strength of 13 hits and three Toronto errors. The Phils had eight hits in Saturday’s win over the Yankees.

Cam Perkins, Pedro Florimon and Daniel Nava all had two hits. Rhys Hoskins and Ryan Hanigan both walked twice. Andres Blanco homered. Brock Stassi doubled. Nick Williams had a hit, two RBIs and a walk. Power-hitting rightfielder Dylan Cozens stole two bases.

Cozens is a legitimate stolen-base threat. In addition to belting 40 homers at Double A Reading last season, he swiped 21 bags and was only caught once.

"You've got to like his tools," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's really an athletic guy. He's got good hands at the plate. I think he's going to hit because he doesn't have a lot of excess body movement. He hits a lot with his hands and I think in time he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he'll be an even better player. He looks like a solid defender, good hitting ability, a lot of power and some speed."

On the mound
Ben Lively and Alberto Tirado both pitched two scoreless innings and Pat Neshek and Michael Mariot had one each.

Up next
Jerad Eikchoff makes his spring debut when the Phillies host the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

Clay Buchholz will get the start Tuesday against Baltimore.