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.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).