Flyers-Thrashers: Presidents, Starters, and Captains edition

Flyers-Thrashers: Presidents, Starters, and Captains edition

A home game against the Atlanta Thrashers
coming off of a solid road win at Pittsburgh with another road game
tomorrow in Jersey could be plenty challenging for the Flyers, who have
struggled against Atlanta recently. After the Thrashers won both of the
previous meetings between these teams in March, the three games don't
look quite as enticing as they did heading into the final full month of
the regular season. A clunker of a third period resulted in a big
Atlanta comeback and OT win in the first of the March matchups, which
was followed by a shootout loss in Atlanta five days later. Although
both games ended with a sympathy point, the Flyers lacked the ability to
finish off an inferior opponent, albeit one that was fighting for its
playoff chances.

Tonight, the Thrashers trail the playoffs by 11 points and at least
three teams—a rather large hill to climb with only six games remaining.
They either need to play with a win-out mentality tonight, or they'll be
golfing before they know it. Will the Flyers match that intensity if
the Thrashers can conjure it? 

A few more notes after the jump. Richie, Bob, Briere, and the President's Trophy... 

•Atlanta has had a March not unlike the Flyers' own, trading wins for
losses and a fair amount of OT games. They're coming off a loss at
Montreal, but they haven't lost back-to-back games since the first and
third of the month.

•Chris Mason will be in net for Atlanta, facing presumed playoff
starter Sergei Bobrovsky, who is coming off of his third victory over
the Penguins this season and an impressive 37-save performance on Long
Island. Another confidence booster at home tonight wouldn't hurt. 

•Glad to see the Briere line had a great game last time out,
reminding the Flyers' potential playoff opponents that they'll have
three (3) bona fide scoring lines to counter over a seven (7) game
series. Last time the Thrashers were in town, Ville Leino netted a hat
trick (pictured above, though it should be noted that Mason was only in
goal for the third, and of course Atlanta did still win that one). 

•I just returned from some time out of town, where I was able to
mostly ignore the latest white noise over the Mike Richards
captaincy/strained media relations. I guess, like the goaltending
situation, we have little chance of hearing the end of this until the
Flyers hoist a Cup, but I'm not even holding out much hope for after
that either. My opinion? Nothing to see here.  

•Vancouver can lock up the President's Trophy with a win tonight and a
Flyers loss. This would be the least effective motivational tool in
Peter Laviolette's arsenal tonight. 

•It's Bill Barber's turn to be honored at home tonight, with his number banner from the Spectrum handed to him before the game. 

•It's time to put this lousy Smarch weather behind us, ending a
dreary month with consecutive wins and looking ahead to what could be a
pretty amazing spring in Philly.

There's another Embiid WWE 2K17 entrance and it includes Hinkie

There's another Embiid WWE 2K17 entrance and it includes Hinkie

He’s done it again.
 
Eleven days ago, Sixers social media went wild over a video that showed Joel Embiid walking out to the ring as a WWE character in WWE 2K17. Well, YouTube user Hillman811 is back with an even better version of the video complete with Sam Hinkie and fans chanting.
 
The first video sparked questions to Embiid about his favorite WWE wrestler, and he even did his own Triple H introduction at the Wells Fargo Center after The Game threw him an All-Star vote (see story).
 
Watch the video below and let your mind run wild with what this would look like if it actually happened.
 

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."