But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

But Hey, Losing Andrej Meszaros Now Beats Losing Him in March, Right?

Philadelphia
has seen its fair share of Achilles injuries over the past year. First
it was Ryan Howard crumbling out of the batter's box to close down the
Phillies' 2011 playoff hopes. In the normally quiet days of the NFL
off-season, Eagles All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his
achilles as well
, an injury compounded when a Roll-A-Bout mishap landed him a second surgery.

This week, it was the Flyers' turn. Already
appearing to need some help to bolster their defense, the team announced
that Andrej Meszaros tore his achilles while training in Slovakia.
After a surgical repair, he could miss most of the upcoming season.
Timelines are difficult to pin down, with setbacks and revisions a
relative part of any athlete's recovery, so we really don't know when
we'll see Andrej the Giant on patrolling the blue line again. 

There's no silver lining in significant injury news.
This obviously sucks. However, the timing could be worse. In fact, the
timing of Meszaros' last injury was. Below the jump, we go in search of a
bright side, if there is any to be found. 

In March of last season, Meszaros required surgery to remove disc fragments in his back. He missed a few weeks of the regular season and all but one game of
the playoffs. Paul Holmgren did what we could to insure against
defensive injuries by adding Nick Grossmann and Pavel Kubina before the
deadline, with Grossmann in particular helping to keep the back end
moderately stable while himself battling some knee issues after Joe
Vitale went hunting in the prelude to the playoffs
.

Free agent options to fill Meszaros' spot are
limited at this point. Carlo Colaiacovo appears to be the favorite if
the Flyers go this route. Even if the injury had come before the market
opened, there may not have been much more Paul Holmgren could have done.
He traded JVR for Luke Schenn. He put $100 million on the table for
Ryan Suter. He put more than that in an offer sheet for Shea Weber.
Homer was working nearly every angle possible to bring more defensive
help to the Flyers, short of retaining Matt Carle, who took a lucrative
deal as the Flyers looked at better options. 

For two reasons, the timing of this injury isn't so
bad. Yes, it means Meszaros won't suit up for most if not all of the
upcoming regular season—maybe longer—and that prospect is certainly
bleak. But at least the Flyers know well before the campaign starts what
they're up against, rather than dealing with the loss after the trade
deadline, just before the playoffs, or in the middle of the opening
round. 

We're all big hockey fans, and we'll watch anything
from a skate-around to a mid-February game against the Panthers and look
for what's great about it. But with 16 teams making the cut for a
two-month playoffs, a mark the Flyers rarely miss, the games taking place
between early October and early April constitute a long battle of
attrition that has more to do with enjoyment of the sport and gate/TV
revenues than who will ultimately be champions. Ask the 8th seeded LA
Kings. Sure, the vital chemistry built during this time is huge for the
team that ultimately wins it all, but it's rarely mentioned for the
teams that don't. 

The injuries that matter most when it comes time for
deciding who will go deep into the playoffs or raise a Cup are those
that derail a contender's chances by sidelining key players in the
spring. With the strong potential for a shortened season due to labor
disputes, the next postseason seems even farther away than usual, though it actually isn't. Still, the
Flyers have time to develop a gameplan to bolster their defense, be it
via trade, another minor signing or two, or just waiting to see what
they have in their young bodies. While they have some depth to
temporarily fill the third pairing, things get downright scary when
injury strikes any other defenseman, which is not unlikely given the
nature of the game, age of Kimmo Timonen, and history of others like
Grossmann. The Fly-toms group likely isn't ready to make the jump to
extended top-4 minutes. 

I mean, watch as the usually effusive Homer tries to bridle the enthusiasm he has for the youngsters!

In all seriousness, there are some young blueliners
worth a longer look, including Marc-Andre Bourdon, who got a new deal
yesterday. And, once the season opens, the team will start to get a
better idea of what Schenn brings to the table. Will he re-emerge as a
top-4 guy? Right now, they'll need him to. Can the young guys develop
quickly? Or will more minutes expose them? Either way, if things aren't
working out, Homer will likely know well before the next trade deadline
just how badly he needs help (if he hasn't dealt for it already). He'll
also know better what he can afford to trade away if needs arise. 

We know Homer was already looking to get better on
defense before the Meszaros injury, so it's unlikely he's suddenly OK
with the situation. Now, with one fewer bona fide top-4ish NHL
defenseman fewer than when he opened the war chest last month, Homer
will likely be back to work, if he'd even stopped at all. The downside
here is, there may be more likelihood of overpayment. Where before
certain players were untouchable even in exchange for blue-chip talent,
there may be more desperation now. There probably shouldn't be, given
how much time there is between now and the postseason.

Of course, there are a few other things working against
Homer with the timing of this injury too. First, the uncertain labor
situation slowed the off-season to a crawl. While a delayed start could
give the Flyers fewer games over which to manage the loss of Meszaros,
uncertainty could be slowing the market. Other teams who don't have
mid-summer injuries emerging may not be as interested in dealing right
now, and free agency and the value of current contracts seem less
certain with a new CBA being hammered out. And, importantly, if Homer
does manage a deal that brings a steady defenseman to Philly, that player will
bring a cap hit with him. The uncertainty as to when Meszaros returns
and a $4 million cap hit of his own from LTIR makes long-term planning
difficult. I've referred to "uncertainty" a lot in this paragraph, and
not because I lack a thesaurus. It's a major obstacle in the way of
Homer's planning. 

Finally, whenever the season starts, there is
obviously still plenty of time for new injuries to other players to set
in at more critical junctures. Meszaros' return for the playoffs is far
from certain, what with all the infections and Roll-A-Bout accidents
we've come to learn are par for the course with this particular injury.
So again, we're not talking about there being an actual advantage to any
of this. But it's possible the Meszaros injury will have little impact
on the truly meaningful games played in the postseason—as long as he
recovers, rehabs, and is back at game strength by then, and/or Holmgren
makes a savvy move he may have been on the fence about before losing Big
Mesz.

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

Jeremy Hellickson set to pitch Saturday — unless he's traded

ATLANTA — Even with the Miami Marlins having filled their need for starting pitching, there remains significant interest in Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson, according to major league sources.

The Phillies have received offers for the 29-year-old right-hander, but none that they have deemed worthy of pulling the trigger on.

Hellickson is scheduled to make his 22nd start for the club on Saturday night. Will he make that start? Time will tell. Talks between the Phillies and interested clubs are ongoing.

Hellickson is coming off two strong starts in which he allowed just six hits and one run in 14 innings against the Marlins. Another strong start Saturday could add more luster to Hellickson’s stretch-run value and bring the Phillies the package they are seeking. The trade deadline is Monday at 4 p.m.

Miami had interest in Hellickson before making a deal to acquire starters Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea from San Diego in a seven-player trade Friday (see story).

Hellickson is viewed by industry insiders as being a fallback option for a number of teams. Demand for him could grow as trades are made and the starting pitching market thins as Monday’s deadline approaches.

Baltimore, Toronto, Texas, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Houston are among teams looking to add starting pitching.

Though there’s no guarantee that Hellickson will be moved, he is the most likely Phillie to go. Reliever David Hernandez is next on the list. A number of teams are looking for relief help. The feeling around baseball is that the Phils could move Hernandez before Monday’s deadline, but the return would only be marginal.

The Phillies have received some interest in closer Jeanmar Gomez, but not to the degree one might expect for someone with 27 saves. Because Gomez lacks power stuff, rival teams do not view him as a closer on a contending team.

FOX Sports reports that the Rangers have interest in right-hander Vince Velasquez, but the Phils would have to be blown away to move the 24-year-old right-hander. Velasquez started for the Phillies on Friday night.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.83 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there." (See story)

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P