Flyers-Wild: "Cat's Head Soup" Edition

Flyers-Wild: "Cat's Head Soup" Edition

We've just about reached that blue-in-the-face point in the season. With only nine games left, there ain't much to say that hasn't been said already. The quotes coming from the players are the same, as are the outcomes of the games lately. I guess one positive is that they've been more consistent. They're losing with greater regularity now than they had been for a while. 

Attempting to unsettle that balance against the Minnesota Wild tonight, Peter Laviolette has again shuffled his lines, only this time it's a more dramatic change:  

Hartnell-Richards-Carcillo 

Gagne-Briere-Leino 

van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Powe 

Laperriere-Betts-Asham  ...

At least, that's what they were at the morning skate, says Kevin Kurz. (That's two beers, right, KK?)  

Other than Richards' 28 goals, there aren't a lot of red lights flashing on that top scoring line. The second has some surface-level potential, and I like Giroux and JVR working together. Either way, I like just about any shakeup Lavvy can throw at this team right now. They just can't frickin score. 

Last time we saw the Wild, we were pretty excited that Nik Backstrom wasn't getting the start in net. Sadly, this only meant that we got to see another backup dismantle our scorers, with Anton "The Grill" Khudobin—their third string netminder—getting his first start annnnd a 2-1, 39-save win. No word on opposing  the starter for tonight, but even if Backstrom goes, he hasn't beaten the Flyers (0-2). 

The Flyers catch a different injury break though, with Minnesota's leading points scorer (Mikko Koivu) out of the lineup. Speaking of leading scorers being out, Jeff Carter will have a screw placed in his foot, and his timetable is not said to have changed. 

The Wild are 13th in the Western standings right now, but their point total would be good enough for 9th in the East. They're a dramatic longshot for postseason play (and that's being polite), but that doesn't mean they can't come in here and drag the Flyers down with them. We've seen the Flyers play down to their opponents, and this game has that potential, even though the opponent isn't all that bad. Word is Derek Bbooggaarrdd will play tonight, as half of the book on the Flyers lately has been to goon them up. 

The other half—and this is what I'll be watching for tonight—seems to be to collapse the defensive zone and let the Flyers putz around on the perimeter. They're getting some shots off, but there continues to be either no angle or a high percentage of blocks. Has Laviolette's system, which at one point was chasing starting goalies from the crease left and right, been solved?  More than likely, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but I don't see any answers to the drought lately.  

Bonus: The new headshot rule goes into effect tonight! Read more here

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Record-breaking crowds flood the Parkway for NFL Draft Experience in Philly

Who needs to the Pope when you have Ginger Jesus?

The NFL Draft Experience joined a long list of wildly popular events in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and all along the Ben Franklin Parkway.

The NFL announced today that nearly 100,000 fans enjoyed the experience, the most-ever for a draft-related event, on day 1 of the draft alone.

Fans flooded into the Experience with people from all across the country in town to support their respective teams. Eagles fans clearly dominated the crowd, however, as you couldn't go a few minutes without hearing an E-A-G-L-E-S chant. 

ESPN also showed some love all night long. SportsCenter's Scott Van Pelt called the story of the night in Philadelphia the city of Philly itself. Adam Schefter called it the "wildest, most raucous crowd in draft history." Jon Gruden called Philly "one of the greatest football towns on the planet."

Aside from not being totally in love with their first pick Derek Barnett upon first blush, Philly fans showed off wonderfully. Even the booing of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came off as cute.

The Draft Experience is open again on Friday from noon until 11:00 pm and on Saturday from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. It's free for all fans.

Try the games, avoid the cheesesteaks. And bring some sunscreen (ugh).

By the numbers: Jeremy Hellickson legitimately among NL's best the last year

By the numbers: Jeremy Hellickson legitimately among NL's best the last year

Unless you're a die-hard Phillies fan, you might not grasp just how good Jeremy Hellickson has been since the start of 2016.

Hellickson, who allowed one run in six innings Thursday to improve to 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA this season, hasn't just been solid — he's legitimately been one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Some stats to back it up:

• Hellickson has a 1.11 WHIP the last two seasons. That's a better mark than Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Cueto, Cole Hamels, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Quintana and Chris Archer have.

• Over the last calendar year, Hellickson's 3.29 ERA ranks ninth-best in the NL. Over that span he has a lower ERA than some really good pitchers like Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, Carlos Martinez, Hamels, Quintana and Rick Porcello. It's almost identical to Chris Sale's 3.26 ERA over that span.

• Hellickson over the last calendar year has walked 2.03 batters per nine innings. That's fifth-best in the NL behind only Mike Leake, Bartolo Colon, Madison Bumgarner and Syndergaard. (Jerad Eickhoff is a spot below Hellickson at 2.05 and then comes Max Scherzer at 2.08).

• How has Hellickson been so effective with so low a strikeout rate? He's thrown exactly 250 pitches since 2016 on the low-outside corner and low-inside corner. That's fifth-most in the majors, behind only Jon Lester, Zach Davies, Keuchel and Kyle Hendricks. Paint.

This stat refers to zones 17 and 19 in the image below.

Of course, Hellickson has done this with an extremely low strikeout rate. He's never been a big strikeout guy, but he did say Thursday he's been a bit surprised to have this much success in 2017 with his lowest career K rate. 

Hellickson has a very low batting average on balls in play which will regress closer to his career average, but it's not as if luck is the sole factor here. As mentioned above, he's hit spots as well as almost anyone in the majors. 

And the changeup, his elite pitch, gets some swings and misses but more often results in weak contact and quick outs. The worm will turn at some point, but Hellickson shouldn't be expected to fall off a cliff and revert back into a pitcher with a high-4.00s ERA.

The Phillies did well with this acquisition two offseasons ago and may have been fortunate things with Hellickson worked out the way they did. He has even more trade value now than he did a year ago.