Flyers-Penguins: The NHLs Hottest Team Versus Its Most Rested

Flyers-Penguins: The NHLs Hottest Team Versus Its Most Rested

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The NCAA Tournament has been a welcome distraction from the
misery that is the pro sports landscape in Philadelphia, and in particular the
Flyers who have been idle the entire time. Tonight Orange & Black attempts
to reel us back in as the club renews its intense rivalry with the Pittsburgh
Penguins.

Amazingly enough, the time off did not damage the Bullies’
playoff chances significantly more than they had already managed to do
themselves. The Flyers were five points back of the eighth seed after losing to
the Tampa Bay Lightning last Monday, and they remain five points back entering
the matchup with the Pens. Meanwhile, the games played column finally evened
itself out, to the point where most of the Eastern Conference have actually
passed Philly.

As bad as this season has been, the Flyers are still in
control of their own destiny. It’s only a question of whether they can
capitalize.

They begin to form their answer in Pittsburgh against the
hottest team on ice. The Penguins have yet to lose in the month of March,
riding an 11-game winning streak to a comfortable 12-point lead in the Atlantic
Division and first place in the East. They have also tied the Chicago
Blackhawks for the most wins in the NHL with 24, and are three points removed
from claiming ownership of the best record in the league.

The Pens are getting the job done on both ends. They are
averaging four goals per game during the streak, and have not allowed more than
two in a tilt over the last seven. What’s more, they’ve been without Evgeni
Malkin for two weeks now as the 2011-12 MVP takes care of a shoulder injury.
High-scoring defenseman Kris Letang has recently become unavailable as well.

Speaking of injuries, Tim Panaccio reports Danny Briere will
not be in uniform for the Flyers. Briere suffered an upper-body injury in practice
last week, and is expected to be replaced by Harry Zolnierczyk, which is about
as detailed as the news gets. It hasn’t been a productive season for Danny to
say the least, but you would rather have him in the lineup than not.

Of course, a bunch of this stuff –injuries, trends, the
standings – flies right out the window whenever these two teams square off, as
tends to happen with any good rivalry. Little has been predictable about their
recent encounters, other than the action typically is going to get wild.

In their last meeting, the Flyers stormed out to a 4-1 lead,
looking absolutely dominant in every phase of the game. The Penguins turned the
tables on them in the second period, and had the score knotted up before
heading back into the dressing room. A quick goal in the third period proved to
be enough, lifting Pittsburgh to a huge comeback victory, and the third W of
their current streak. It also gave them a 2-1 series lead for the season.

There is one statistic that has held up through this rivalry
so far however, that being Philly’s record at CONSOL Energy Center. Including
playoffs, the Flyers are 8-2 in the Penguins’ building.

The Flyers have fresh legs, but what they really need is a
fresh outlook moving forward. The season is not quite lost yet like many
expected it would be coming out of the five-day break, and earning two points
in Pittsburgh could make a statement.

With La Salle still going strong, we expect there will be a
lot of flipping channels in the Delaware Valley on Sunday night. Flyers-Pens
have been appointment viewing though, so don’t miss it.

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Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”