Flyers Top Tampa, But Claude Giroux Leaves (Video)

Flyers Top Tampa, But Claude Giroux Leaves (Video)

Excitement over the Flyers' fifth straight win is tempered with the knowledge that Claude Giroux left the game in the second period after a collision saw Wayne Simmonds' knee hit Giroux in the head. Giroux was low on the ice after a checking attempt, and Simmonds tried to avoid him by jumping over him, but his knee hit Giroux's helmet pretty hard.

Giroux would leave the game and go up the tunnel, and he didn't return. On Friday, the Flyers announced that Chris Pronger was out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms, and Brayden Schenn's previously described upper body injury was updated to be a concussion as well. After Sidney Crosby missed nearly a year with concussion-related symptoms (and is once again being held out as a precaution), nothing could be scarier than a player having a possible concussion.

At least for now, Paul Holmgren is saying Giroux's removal from the game was a precaution. He will be evaluated again tomorrow morning and did not go to the hospital. We're not going to get too much further into what-if's until we're given a reason to.

llya Bryzgalov also left the game, departing during a stoppage in the third period. He went halfway up the tunnel, but returned the bench not long after. After the game, he coyly indicated that it was "an old boo-boo," and seemingly nothing to worry about. Sergei Bobrovsky finished the game for him, preserving the 4-2 lead he inherited before Scott Hartnell netted an empty netter. It's a least a good sign that Bryzgalov never took off the equipment and skated with the team to celebrate the win.

Video of the collision and more on the game below.

Game Action:
The question heading into the game was whether the Lightning and Flyers would once again play a trap vs. stall showdown. Tampa didn't stick strictly to the 1-3-1, and did send forecheckers more than we saw in last game. It may have had something to do with the fact that they just seemed to have the puck more overall in the period. They came out firing and controlled the tempo through most of the first period. Ryan Shannon opened the scoring, converting on a nice feed from Dominic Moore.

Although the home side looked pretty sluggish while chasing the Lightning through the first 20 minutes, a one-goal deficit was hardly much to worry about after seeing the Flyers win a pair of comeback efforts in recent games.

This is a Flyers team that appears seasoned beyond its years, with players young and old keeping their heads in the game even when they concede early leads and aren't playing good hockey. When the second period began, so did the game for Philadelphia. The Flyers scored three straight in the frame, with Danny Briere, Jaromir Jagr, and Wayne Simmonds all lighting the lamp.

Vincent Lecavalier scored on a power play less than a minute into the third period, but the momentum didn't tip any further to Tampa's advantage. Matt Carle deposited a great pass from Danny Briere just four minutes later to put the Flyers back up by a pair.

Hartnell scored a well-deserved empty netter in the final minute of the game, extending his goal scoring streak to five contests.

We still don't know the extent of Giroux's injury, but it was encouraging to see the rest of the team hold up so strongly in the third period. Even after last season's very deep team was blown up, they're at least as deep right now as they were then. That's not to say losing Giroux for any amount of time wouldn't be disruptive...

Notes:
Giroux had a pair of assists, including a sweet drop pass to Jagr. Simmonds is heating up, getting increasingly very comfortable around the opposing crease. His goal was a little dirty in that it went in off a deflection and total change of direction, but Simmonds is making things happen down low on a regular basis lately. His goal came off a play very much like an attempt he made against the Penguins, spinning down low and trying to send a blind pass to Jakub Voracek.

Simmonds was also very active with the stick. Briere's goal came off a great strip by Simmer, as well as a nice pass.

Jagr had an amazing overall game, and his goal tied him with Brendan Shanahan for 11th all time in NHL goals with 656.

Sean Couturier took Giroux's spot between Jagr and Hartnell in the third period, a welcomed site for fans wanting to see the star rookie play in an offensive role (although no one would have it be for this reason). Cooter nearly scored twice, both off of great feeds from Jagr.

Once again, the defense was pretty solid. Marc-Andre Bourdon and Kevin Marshall played well, and Kimmo Timonen continued to build on an excellent season. He did have a goal pass through his wickets before beating a screened Bryzgalov though…

Tonight's great soundbite came from Bryzgalov, who, when pressed by Tim Panaccio as to why he didn't return to the ice on a stoppage if it was only an equipment issue, as Bryz had indicated, gave up and just said, "I'm a bad liar," drawing laughs from the room. We're just glad his status can literally be called a laughing matter.

We'll keep you posted if any injury updates are made, but it sounds like we've heard all there is to say for tonight.

Video Highlights:

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.

In aggressive D, Mike Martin trying to show Eagles his worth

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In aggressive D, Mike Martin trying to show Eagles his worth

When Ray Horton brought his two-gapping 3-4 defense to the Tennessee Titans in 2014, Mike Martin wasn’t thrilled. 

After all, the former third-round defensive tackle thought he was at his best in an aggressive get-up-the-field type defense, not the one full of lateral motion that Horton established in Tennessee. 

But without recourse, Martin played out the last two seasons of his rookie deal in Horton’s defense, before joining the Eagles in free agency this offseason. 

“That’s something that I was kind of disappointed in Tennessee when we were playing that, but you gotta adjust,” Martin said this week. “That’s this game. Coaches switch and you have to be able to change to stay in this game. But to be back in a system like this, excites me a lot.”

Martin, 25, admitted part of the reason he joined the Eagles was the opportunity based on the lack of depth the team had at his position, but an even bigger reason was the opportunity to play in Jim Schwartz’s downhill scheme. 

Really, it’s the main reason the 6-1, 306-pound interior defensive lineman decided to sign a one-year deal to join the Eagles in April. 

“I already knew what they were all about and then when I got to see what type of scheme they were bringing in and what Coach Schwartz wanted to emphasize, with getting off the ball and getting to our landmarks and things like that, really excited me and solidified it for me, because I know I can flourish in a system like that.”

In fact, Martin thinks he fits best in the kind of defense the Eagles will run this year. 

“Oh yeah. Oh yeah,” Martin said. “My quickness and my get-off and the type of player I am, it suits me well, so it’s exciting.”

Martin came to Philadelphia because of the defensive scheme, but he already knows a couple players on the team. Martin played at Michigan with Brandon Graham; the two have been good friends ever since. And Vinny Curry was Martin’s roommate at the Senior Bowl back in 2012. 

This offseason, as Fletcher Cox stays away from the Eagles’ spring practices while he awaits a new contract, other guys are getting extended reps. One of those guys is Martin. While Taylor Hart lined up next to Bennie Logan on the first-team defense last Tuesday, it was Martin next to him this week during the practice open to the media. 

Martin said he’s been sporadically working with the first unit and has been switching sides with Logan too. 

Eventually, Cox will return and reclaim his rightful spot as the starter and Martin will be sent back to his spot in the depth chart with the likes of Hart, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao and Connor Wujciak. 

In the meantime, Martin is just focused on showing his coaches as much as he possibly can, which isn’t very easy in May. During these practices players aren’t in pads and the hitting won’t start until training camp — even then, it’s limited. 

Still, Martin thinks he can show something over the next few weeks. 

“Really, I’m just trying to focus on my hands because we’re not allowed to have a lot of contact,” he said. “If I’m good with my hands, I can show them how I can move in this defense. I think that’s something that they can see and you can’t really deny. I’m just going to continue to improve and show them those things. When it comes time to put the pads on, it will just translate.”

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Challenging series begins with Jon Lester

Phillies (26-21) at Cubs (31-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

After their having their second straight Thursday off, the Phillies open up a challenging three-game weekend series Friday afternoon against the Cubs, owners of the majors' best record.

Let's take a look at what to expect:

1. Best in the bigs
The Cubs are three games better than any team in baseball. Their run differential of plus-119 is 47 better than the next-best team. They've scored the most third-most runs (256) and allowed just 137, which is 12 fewer than any other club.

With Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs probably have the deepest starting rotation in baseball. 

With Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward and Addison Russell, they have the National League's top offense.

With guys like Tommy La Stella, Matt Szczur and David Ross making key contributions, they have one of the best benches in baseball.

There is no real weakness with this team. Even the mostly anonymous bullpen has been among the game's best, posting a 3.09 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 122⅓ innings.

This is, however, the right time to be playing the Cubs. Chicago is 4-6 in its last 10 games and 6-8 in its last 14. The Cubs did appear to get back on track by beating the Cardinals in the final two games of a nine-game road trip that ended Wednesday.

At Wrigley, the Cubs are 14-6. They've lost two home series this season to the Padres and Rockies.

2. Cool Lester Smooth
Props if you get The Wire reference.

The Phillies open the series against left-hander Jon Lester, who is 4-3 with a 2.60 ERA this season but is coming off his worst start. Lester allowed five runs in just 2⅔ innings in last weekend's loss at San Francisco.

Aside from that, he's enjoyed another very good season. The 32-year-old joined the Cubs in free agency prior to last season on a six-year, $155 million deal, and has gone 15-15 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 41 starts with Chicago. He's struck out 259 batters in 260⅓ innings.

The Phillies have faced Lester six times — five when he was with the Red Sox — and they've never beaten him. He's 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA against them and has allowed just 30 hits in 41 innings. He's gone seven innings in five of the six starts.

Lester's repertoire has remained consistent through the years. He throws mostly four-seam fastballs, cutters and curveballs. He'll also mix in sinkers and changeups, but 85 percent of his pitches this season have been four-seamers, cutters and curves.

Lester's cutter is his great equalizer against right-handed hitters, who have hit .240 against him the last four seasons. He can back-door it, starting it outside and having it break back over the outside corner, or start it over the middle and have it break in to jam a righty.

Current Phillies are 10 for 55 (.182) against Lester with two walks and 18 strikeouts. Ryan Howard and Freddy Galvis have each homered off him. Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 11, Cameron Rupp is 0 for 3 and Maikel Franco is 0 for 6. Odubel Herrera has never faced him.

3. Tommy time
Facing a lefty means an automatic start for Tommy Joseph at first base. Joseph went 4 for 11 in the Tigers series with a double and a homer, hitting the ball hard even when he made outs. 

What will be interesting is how Pete Mackanin uses Joseph the rest of the series. The Phillies will face right-handers on Saturday and Sunday in Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Only once since Joseph came up from Triple A has he started against a right-hander in place of Howard. Joseph faced two righties in the Tigers series, but Howard was the designated hitter. The only game in which Joseph replaced Howard at first base against a right-hander was last Sunday in the Phils' win over Casey Kelly and the Braves.

Joseph hit .324 with seven extra-base hits against right-handed pitchers at Triple A this season, and is 4 for 18 (.222) with a double and a homer against them with the Phils. Both extra-base hits came Monday off Mike Pelfrey.

Here's the Phillies' lineup Friday:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Adam Morgan, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

4. Morgan's command must be perfect
It's the same thing every time Adam Morgan takes the mound but it's especially true this afternoon: He needs to throw quality strikes early in counts and command his fastball nearly flawlessly on the inside and outside corners.

Morgan (1-2, 5.61) is coming off a decent start against the Braves in which he allowed two runs over six innings. But the Braves and Cubs are about as different as two offenses can be. 

Morgan held lefties last season to a .225 batting average, but this year they're 8 for 26 (.308) against him with two doubles and a homer. He's not the kind of lefty who makes it uncomfortable for a same-handed hitter, but Rizzo and Heyward are both out of the Cubs' lineup Friday.

Morgan faced the Cubs last season and allowed four runs in five innings in a loss. Fowler, Heyward and Javier Baez all had multi-hit games against him.

5. Model for success?
The Cubs endured several years of losing during their own rebuild and have emerged as one of the most talented teams in recent years. It took a little luck along the way. The Astros drafted Mark Appel first overall and left Kris Bryant at No. 2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took advantage of a rare win-now move from Billy Beane in trading a half-season of Jeff Samardzija and Hammel for Russell. 

But the Cubs also identified Kyle Schwarber (out for the season, but a very good young hitter) and drafted him higher than most analysts predicted he'd go. They found lights-out closer Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. They clearly won the 1-for-1 swap of Andrew Cashner for Rizzo. Most importantly, they bought low on a highly-touted Arrieta, who was struggling with the Orioles before emerging into one of the three-best starting pitchers in the majors.

And when the prospects began graduating to the majors, the Cubs did what the Phillies will likely do in a year or two: They spent. 

As much as everyone loves to talk about Chicago's young talent, they also spent $184 million on Heyward, $155 million on Lester, $56 million on Zobrist and $60 million on catcher Miguel Montero. They filled in their roster with veterans who fit the plan, and it's allowed them to continue to ease in guys like Baez and Jorge Soler.

It would take a ton of breaks for the Phillies to be as exciting or as successful a team as the Cubs in a few years, but Chicago has shown that this model can work in a major market.