Five Encouraging Parts of the Phillies' Sweep of the Mets This Weekend

Five Encouraging Parts of the Phillies' Sweep of the Mets This Weekend

We've gotten so used to crappy development after crappy development with our teams this past year that it's almost unsettling when something unreservedly positive happens with one of them. But in case you were too busy this weekend watching game film on Matt Barkley or celebrating the historic demise of the Lakers and Celtics, the rumors are true--the Phillies swept the Mets at Citi Field this weekend, winning three games by a combined score of 18-5. If it was five years ago, this would have been cause for rioting in the streets; even in 2013, it's a pretty cool thing.

None of the three games were even particularly close--yesterday afternoon's game was knotted for a while, but the Phils broke it open in the seventh and the Mets never really fought back. And in the meantime, a whole bunch of our guys who had been struggling some got to get back on track. Some of the positives include:

1. Cole's first win of the season. Hamels had gone a dispiriting five starts without earning a W, despite going at least six innings while allowing  three runs or fewer in his last three starts. He finally got one yesterday, although it wasn't Cole's sharpest performance--he walked an uncharacteristic six batters, his most since July of last year. But he managed to get out of trouble and only let up two hits all game, and after giving the Mets one in the first, went five more scoreless before turning the game over to the bullpen.

2. The Bullpen holding tight. Speaking of which. After being about as secure as a Playskool piggy bank for four games against the Pirates, the bullpen was actually on lockdown for this series, letting up only two hits and one run in seven innings of combined work, the lone damage courtesy of a John Buck solo blast off Jeremy Horst in a game the Phils were already leading 9-3. The bullpen on this team was supposed to be a strength, so it's good to see that the Pittsburgh disaster situation does not appear to be a continuing crisis.

3. Ryan getting on track. Ryan Howard only had one hit in each of the three games--he was just a pinch-hitter in the third game anyway--but he made them count, with a game-breaking three-run homer in the first, a floodgate-opening RBI single in the second, and a huge, go-ahead two-run double in the third. He ended with seven RBIs on the series, awesome production from our hot-and-cold cleanup hitter. Ryan's clearly still not the MVP candidate he was a half-decade ago, with more of his one-time home runs dying at the wall and his walk rate diminishing to near non-existence, but if he can at least stay a net positive on offense, we won't be kept up at nights thinking about the four years, nearly $100 mil left on his contract.

4. Dom and JMJ going back-to-back. Domonic Brown's alternately frustrating and tantalizing year continues, as he only went 3-13 on the series, but with one of those three being a three-run blast that put game two of the series to bed in the fifth inning. John Mayberry Jr. followed that with a solo blast of his own, continuing his 2011-level production for the season, with ten extra base hits (tied for second on the team) in just 73 plate appearances. We could really use at least one of these guys turning out to actually be a good, reliable everyday outfielder, so we'll continue to grasp onto these scraps while gritting our teeth through their 0-4 with three strikeouts games.

5. Kyle going the distance. Kyle Kendrick picked up just the second shutout victory of his career with a three-hit, one-walk, five-K blanking of the Mets in the series opener. With his 2-1 record, 2.41 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 3:1 K/BB ratio, Kendrick has been the unlikely ace of the Phils' pitching staff this year, despite making over $15 million less than three of our other starters. It might not last, but going back to the second half of last year now, Kendrick has made a decisive case for being a reliable back-end starter, if not more. He probably won't get optioned to Triple A again at any point this year, at the very least.

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Related: a Phillie Phanatic photo gallery

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Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

Another wild-card run? Flyers need it to start outdoors

PITTSBURGH -- At this point, the Flyers are sick of talking about Saturday night's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins at Heinz Field.

They just want to get it on and get it over with. Too much buildup.

“Yeah, kind of,” Simmonds said Friday. “For us, this is an extremely important game. We’ve got to get all the points we can possibly get going down the stretch if we want to make the playoffs.

“Obviously, it’s going to be an exciting time. A lot of guys have families here. But we have to stay focused on the goal.”

To say the Flyers need points right now is a huge understatement. They are five points behind the New York Islanders for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot.

That’s the farthest they have been behind since occupying the wild card on Dec. 4. When the Flyers won their 10th consecutive game Dec. 14, they were 14 points ahead of the Islanders.

That’s a 19-point swing in the standings since then.

“So, we just have to find a way to get two points and get some wins in a row here,” Jakub Voracek said. “Every game against Pittsburgh is special. Playing an outdoor game -- I don't know how many people are going to be here -- but it's going to be a great experience.

“For us, every game is a huge game. So, if you play Pittsburgh or Colorado, it doesn't matter. You have to get two points.”

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Friday night he believes his team can still make a playoff run and salvage a wild card.

The thing is, when the Flyers made their second-half push last season, it actually began in mid-February -- earlier than now.

A couple players got hot, as did Michal Neuvirth and then Steve Mason, and you could see momentum building in the team over weeks.

That hasn’t been the case here. It’s almost March and the Flyers are floundering, no one is scoring and they are losing games despite playing pretty good hockey with no answer on how to turn things around without a major scoring increase across the board.

“It's a different season,” Voracek said of the comparison. “Different teams. You could use it as an advantage. … We have to play our hockey. The last two games, we went 1-1, but we played pretty good. We have to be ready [Saturday].”

Hextall said what happens this weekend and Tuesday against Colorado will have a trickle-down effect on what he does Wednesday at the NHL trade deadline (see story).

“We’ve played well enough at times this year that we can mount a run,” Hextall said. “I have no doubt in my mind. We’ve been playing pretty good the last eight, nine games. Except for the Edmonton game.

“But we haven’t gotten results. We need to get results. It’s not about moral victories or playing good against Washington. That’s fine and dandy, but not good enough. We have to win games.”

It starts tonight.

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .