And Theyre Off: Flyers Idle for Five Days, Then What Happens?

And Theyre Off: Flyers Idle for Five Days, Then What Happens?

As of Tuesday, only the Pittsburgh Penguins had as many
games played as the Flyers in 2013, a category the Orange & Black have been
leading the NHL in since the regular season began back in January. But by the
time Philly’s run of five days off is over on Sunday, the rest of the Eastern
Conference will have caught up to them, and their view in the standings will
only be bleaker still.

At one time there might have been a debate over whether being
idle for so long would do more harm than good to the team’s cause. Sure, the
Flyers were going to be well-rested heading into the stretch, their fresh legs
potentially giving them an advantage over weary opponents as they jockeyed for
playoff positioning. However, it can be tough to maintain concentration and return
in mid-season form following such a lengthy break.

Rest assured there is no argument anymore. The Flyers cannot
help themselves by sitting at home, least of all under this compressed 48-game
schedule. Every team is going to have a chance to increase their lead or gain
ground on the Flyers, and since it’s all inter-conference play this season,
that means not a single point will be lost out west.

Philadelphia is at 27 points, which currently puts them five
out from a playoff spot. By the time they return to action though, they’ll
likely fall between a bare minimum of seven-to-nine back of the eighth seed
with only 18 tilts remaining.

To make matters worse, it will be right back into the frying
pan when the Flyers return. When they resume play on Sunday, five games in
eight days await them, including clashes with the Penguins, New York Rangers,
and Boston Bruins – the trio of rivals that just beat up on the Bullies in
succession two weeks ago.

Oh yeah, and even if they manage to top the Pens and Bruins,
with 44 and 41 points respectively they probably can’t realistically catch up
to either one of them anyway. The two points are still beneficial, but won’t necessarily
help the Flyers move up in the standings unless the other clubs vying for lower
seeds lose as well.

While the deficit is not technically insurmountable, the
Flyers’ path to the postseason has become extraordinarily difficult to see.
Unless they hit the ice on Sunday like they’ve been fired out of a cannon and
get on a big points streak, their season is effectively finished – if for all intents and purposes it hasn't ended already.

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Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

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