Game 7: St. Louis Blues at Philadelphia Flyers Blues Music edition

Game 7: St. Louis Blues at Philadelphia Flyers Blues Music edition

Tonight in South Philly, the Flyers will need to do something they haven't had to do as a group yet—play on the heels of a sound beating. They took one at the hands of the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, marking their first non-OT loss of the season, and while it's nothing to worry about (really, nothing short of a major injury is cause for concern this early in the season), it will be interesting to see how the team responds.

Chemistry hasn't been a negative issue for the Flyers overall, certainly not through the first five games. Game 6 saw a new lineup, with Brayden Schenn entering the mix, and it was clear there was some work for Peter Laviolette to do in finding the right combinations for his lines. On the box score, Thursday's loss would also mark the first time Ilya Bryzgalov got shelled as a Flyer. However, anyone watching the game will tell you this wasn't solely on Bryz, as several of the shots were deflected by defenders attempting to block them.

Bryz and the rest of the Flyers will get a chance to put that loss firmly behind them for the time being, hosting the St. Louis Blues (3-4-0) at the Wells Fargo Center tonight at 7.

Tonight's game marks the start of a three-game Flyers homestand, part of a busy schedule that includes five games in eight days. They won't get much sympathy from the Blues, who played last night, winning 3-2 in overtime at home against Carolina.

Brian Elliott took the Friday night win in net for the Blues, who can't be too thrilled with Jaroslav Halak's performances to date. Halak has only one win, and only one game allowing fewer than three goals. He's allowed four or more in three of his five starts.

Elliott played some good games against the Flyers during his time with the Ottawa Senators, but his luck ran out last season, when the Flyers beat him twice. Blues head coach Davis Payne may start him on back-to-back nights in an effort to keep Elliott's hand hot. We'll know closer to game time who'll be in net for St. Louis.

The Blues have been terrible on both the power play (30th overall, with 1 goal on 25 opportunities) and the kill (28th overall, 70.8%). The Flyers have converted on 25% of their power play opps (8/32), good for 4th in the league, and their PK has been decent and should improve as the personnel get established in their roles.

Hope everyone enjoys some Saturday night hockey, and that the Flyers' youngins earn their merit badge in shaking off a loss.

Chase Utley: Still the Man (just in Los Angeles)

usat-chase-utley-dodgers.jpg
USA Today Sports

Chase Utley: Still the Man (just in Los Angeles)

It's been a while since we checked in with everyone's favorite former Phillie, Chase Utley. And let's be honest: it's not good to go too long without a little Chase in our lives.

Utley was traded from Philadelphia to Los Angeles last summer and it took the Philly faithful a while to get used to seeing Chase wear Dodger blue. That said, I think there were plenty of Phillies fans who oddly found themselves rooting for Utley in last year's postseason, specifically against the New York Mets.

It's Utley's return to New York this weekend that brings him back up on our radar, thanks in large part to a nice article in the L.A. Times by Andy McCullough about Chase returning CitiField where he will play the familiar role of villain, this time for breaking Ruben Tejada's leg last October.

Phillies fans may still get nostalgic about Chase, but Utley himself is no nostaglia act for the Dodgers. After signing a one-year deal to return to L.A. this season, he's leading the Dodgers with a .379 on-base-percentage hitting out of the leadoff spot and is absolutely loved in his clubhouse. The latter is certainly no surprise.

Phillies fans likely remember Roy Halladay writing an ode to Chase last summer which ended with the former ace suggesting people tell their kids to model their play after Utley. Chase hasn't even been in L.A. the equivalent of a full season, but he's having the same sort of influence there.

“Even people who give him credit don’t realize how much he brings to this team,” third-base coach Chris Woodward said.

Utley inspires hyperbole all around. Clayton Kershaw suggested if he had a son, he would instruct his child to study Utley to learn how to play baseball. Utley, he explained, “is always doing the right thing.” Bench coach Bob Geren, a member of the Mets coaching staff last October, offered Utley his version of the ultimate compliment.

“I’m trying to think, in all my years, if I know anybody I’ve ever either played with or coached or managed that’s a better baseball player,” Geren said. “I can’t think of one.”

There's also some fun -- and not at all surprising -- tidbits of how Utley pretty much bends the rules as far as possible to get every single edge he can while playing.

Utley hunts for the tiniest edge. One day last week, he struck out on a pitch that bounced away from the catcher. Utley dropped his bat in between the catcher and the baseball, so the catcher had to make a more difficult play while stepping over the lumber.

“I’m in the dugout like, ‘Did you see that?’” Geren said. “It’s the littlest thing. But that’s who he is.”

Miss you and your dirt, Chase.

>>After The Slide, Chase Utley returns to New York prepared to face the vitriol of Mets fans [L.A. Times]

 

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

dylan-cozens-jorge-alfaro-reading.png
Tug Haines, Don Holohan/Reading Fightin Phils

Future Phillies Report: Power from Alfaro, Cozens; Crawford settles in at AAA

J.P. Crawford is settling in at Triple A, Jorge Alfaro and Dylan Cozens continue to show power, and Zach Eflin threw seven more shutout innings for the IronPigs.

All of that and more in this week's Future Phillies Report:

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
The home run Alfaro hit Monday in Reading was such a no-doubter that Erie centerfielder JaCoby Jones didn't even turn around. Alfaro's blast landed on the top of the hill in center at FirstEnergy Stadium, his third of the season.

The hard-hitting catcher continues to impress at Double A. He's gone 11 for 29 (.379) with a homer and five RBIs since our last check-up, posting four multi-hit games in his last seven. Alfaro is up to .353 on the season with an .897 OPS that would be higher if he had walked more than twice on the year. 

Alfaro has never been the most patient hitter. He has one goal at the plate and that's to do damage, and so far this season he's been Reading's top run producer. Alfaro has 11 extra-base hits and 21 RBIs in 24 games.

He also continues to stand out behind the plate. Alfaro has thrown out three more base-stealers over the last week to make him 8 for 18 on the season.

Alfaro finds himself in a tricky situation. He's hitting enough to warrant a call-up to Triple A, but the Phillies aren't going to promote him and create a logjam behind the plate at Lehigh Valley with Andrew Knapp. And even if Knapp may eventually have to switch positions, it's in the Phils' best interest to keep developing both players as catchers in the meantime.

Instead, look for Alfaro to stay at Double A, where the Phillies will hope he can stay healthy and build confidence by continuing to torch Eastern League pitching.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Six games into his Triple A career, the Phillies' top prospect is 6 for 20 (.300) and has walked four times. Of course he has. Crawford's walked nearly once a game this season, with 34 in 42 games, one every 5.6 plate appearances.

He's converted all 16 defensive chances in his first week with the IronPigs.

Crawford earned the promotion last Friday after hitting .265 with a .398 on-base percentage for Double A Reading. This is his last stop before the majors, which Crawford figures to get a taste of this September. From there, you could see him battle for the Phillies' opening day shortstop job next spring.

Crawford has been batting second for the IronPigs, a lineup spot he figures to occupy once he sticks in the majors. Crawford doesn't have a ton of speed, but his ability to work counts, make contact and reach base at a high clip make him a prototypical No. 2 hitter.

He's faced some solid pitching prospects so far at Triple A. Crawford went 3 for 4 Friday in a game started by lefty Henry Owens (Red Sox). Earlier in the series against Pawtucket he faced left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and Roenis Elias (Red Sox). Crawford went 1 for 2 with two walks over the weekend against Toledo's Daniel Norris (Tigers). 

RHP Zach Eflin (AAA)
Ho-hum, another dominant start from the Phillies' 22-year-old right-hander speeding toward The Show. Seven more shutout innings from Eflin Tuesday at Pawtucket improved him to 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in eight starts. He's struck out 45 and walked eight in 52⅔ innings and held his opponents to a .182 batting average. 

Lefties are hitting just .191 against Eflin with one extra-base hit in 71 plate appearances. In fact, he's allowed just seven extra-base hits all season, or one every 28.3 plate appearances. 

Eflin's 0.80 WHIP leads the International League.

The 6-6 sinkerballer just continues to go deep into games and pitch low-stress innings. In his last three starts, Eflin has pitched 21 innings and allowed one run on just 10 hits. He's walked one batter each game and struck out 17. He's been very efficient, averaging 14.7 pitches per inning.

Eflin is six months younger than Aaron Nola, who debuted with the Phillies last season a month after turning 22. Eflin could follow suit this summer. If he keeps rattling off performances like this, he could eventually crack the Phillies' rotation. A spot would open if a pitcher is injured, if Jeremy Hellickson is traded, if Adam Morgan struggles or if the Phillies limit Vince Velasquez's innings.

RHP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson gave up three home runs last Friday and another on Thursday, but all were solos. He followed an eight-inning, three-run, eight-strikeout performance last Friday by allowing three runs in 5⅔ innings Thursday.

After allowing 13 earned runs in his first four starts, Thompson has given up just seven in his last five. He has a 1.93 ERA and a .193 opponents' batting average over that span, and his groundball rate has risen from 35 percent to 48 percent.

The homers Thompson allowed last Friday were to Casey McGehee, Tyler Collins and Chad Huffman. The one he allowed Thursday was to Rusney Castillo. All have played in the big leagues at some point.

Thompson was not sharp early on Thursday but eventually settled in, as he did last week, jamming lefties in and utilizing a two-seam fastball that broke down and in to righties.

In nine starts with Lehigh Valley, Thompson is 3-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.7 walks.

RHP Mark Appel (AAA)
Though Appel was having some early-season success in his first year in the Phillies' system, the number of men he was putting on base and stranding foretold some eventual regression and that's been the case his last four starts. Appel recorded just two outs on Sunday before exiting for Lehigh Valley.

Appel's velocity was down to the 88 to 90 mph range, which is problematic given the relative flatness of his fastball. If he's sitting in that range he is going to get hit around, period. 

The trouble began when he walked Anthony Gose on a full count to start the game. Dixon Machado followed with a double down the left-field line on a high, 88 mph fastball. After a groundout, Appel hung a curveball that was nearly hit out of the park by Huffman for an RBI double. Three of the next four batters reached and Appel was removed for Severino Gonzalez, having allowed four runs on four hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. 

There was just nothing special about Appel's stuff. His velocity early in games had been 93 to 95 mph, which helped him avoid allowing any runs in the first inning prior to last weekend. But if you were to just arrive at the ballpark Sunday and watch Appel without knowing his name, you'd have never guessed he was a former first overall pick. Is it fair to mention his draft status after each start? Probably not, but that's part of the deal when you get taken first overall and make all that money before reaching the bigs. Appel is aware of that and doesn't fight it — he's learned to accept it.

Through eight starts with Lehigh Valley, Appel is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he's trending in the wrong direction. Let's put it this way: It's no fluke that he's put 60 men on base in 38⅓ innings.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams went 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in a 15-inning game for the IronPigs earlier in the week but has hit in all five games since, going 8 for 18 with three doubles and a homer. Good to see him finally striking the ball with authority. Prior to the last four nights, Williams had just one extra-base hit in his previous 33 plate appearances.

The 22-year-old is hitting .276/.311/.428 this season with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 20 RBIs, eight walks and 38 strikeouts. 

He's holding his own against righties, batting .295 with an .807 OPS, but the left-handed hitting Williams was just 8 for 44 (.182) with one walk and 14 K's against lefties prior to Thursday. That continued a theme from last year, when Williams hit .330 against righties and .210 against lefties.

That's why his game Thursday was so promising. Williams went 3 for 3 with a double, a walk and a hit by pitch, reaching base five times against three different left-handers.

OF Dylan Cozens (AA)
From Williams we go to Cozens, who will not stop crushing the baseball. Since having his 11-game hit streak snapped last Thursday, Cozens has gone 6 for 23 (.261) with three doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs in his last six games. 

The season numbers for the giant lefty are startling: 14 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs and a .938 OPS in 45 games. Cozens leads the Eastern League in homers and slugging percentage (.587) and is second in doubles and OPS.

Cozens is just 21, but he's powering himself up to Triple A. His success is adding intrigue to the Phillies' future outfield picture.

C Andrew Knapp (AAA)
Knapp is settling back in after a two-week slump, going 6 for 17 with three doubles and a homer in his last five games. The homer came against Tigers lefty prospect Matt Boyd, who went to Detroit from Toronto along with Norris in last summer's David Price trade.

It's pretty apparent that Knapp is going to hit his way up at some point. He has a hit in 12 of his last 13 games, and over the last two seasons is batting .321 with a .574 slugging percentage and 77 RBIs in 90 games combined between Double A and Triple A. 

Knapp is working every day behind the plate to get better defensively. Reading manager Dusty Wathan has said his blocking has improved faster than his throwing. Base stealers are 15 for 18 this season against Knapp, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013.

RHPs Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta (AA)
Lively, the 24-year-old pitcher the Phillies acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, followed up his 12-strikeout effort with a quality start and win on Sunday. He allowed three runs on four hits over six innings to improve to 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA. He's struck out 49 batters in 53 innings and allowed just one home run.

Pivetta, 23, is 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in nine starts for Reading with 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Lively and Pivetta, who was acquired from the Nationals last summer for Jonathan Papelbon, have flown under the radar the first two months because of how many other top prospects the Phils have acquired. But they add to the organization's list of capable young right-handed pitchers.

At some point in the next few years, some of these guys could be shifted to the bullpen. The Phillies won't have enough room in the rotation if most or all of their right-handers pan out.

Not worthy of No. 1: LSU reporter details concerns with Ben Simmons

052616-ben-simmons.jpg

Not worthy of No. 1: LSU reporter details concerns with Ben Simmons

So you think Ben Simmons should be picked first or second in the next month's NBA draft.

We found someone who thinks Simmons doesn't deserve to go in either spot. Someone who has seen Simmons play plenty.

It's USA Today LSU beat writer Glenn Guilbeau, who didn't mince words as a guest Thursday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. Guilbeau didn't question Simmons' desire and motivation — "I don't think that was an issue," he said — but did express concerns with other areas. 

Several other areas.

"To me, he's more of a specialist player and a complementary player than someone who can really take over a team," Guilbeau said. "He's not a strong, inside player like a brute. A physical player. And he also does not shoot from the outside, which is amazing, but he's a great passer and a great scorer."

Complementary player? Can't take over a team? Say what? 

"I don't think he should be the first pick," Guilbeau said. "I can see him being a high first-round pick. It depends on the team he's going to. Do they have enough of the other parts of the team where he can be a facilitator and a complementary player?

"He would have to go to a team where he can flourish as a complementary player, a team that has a very good center."

The Sixers are loaded in the front court with Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and potentially Joel Embiid. But a first overall pick is not supposed to be a complementary player.

"I think you could develop him to be as good as he could be, but not be that type of star," Guilbeau said. "It's kind of strange to me. Before he ever played he was supposed to be the greatest player, and I just never saw it. I covered great players here like Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Jackson, and he just didn't change a team like those guys did."

You'd think a team with the best player in the nation would have fared better than LSU, which finished last season a disappointing 19-14. The Tigers were crushed by Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament, 71-38, failed to make the NCAA Tournament and declined an NIT bid. In the loss to the Aggies, Simmons had 10 points, 12 rebounds and four fouls in 31 minutes.

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Simmons averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists for LSU and hit 56.0 percent from the field. Gaudy numbers and all team highs. But he was just 1 for 3 from three, and that's a major concern given that he's being projected at almost every position but center.

"I just was surprised -- he didn't even try to shoot from the outside," Guilbeau said. "That would be the normal attribute that a player like him would have because he's a guard. He's basically a guard who can't shoot. Most of them can shoot. That's what I thought was really missing, and it hurt the team at times.

"In my mind, either you can dominate inside like a Shaquille O'Neal, or you can do all the other things, but all the other things has to include shooting from the outside, and he doesn't do that. I'd rather have Buddy [Hield]."

If there's one thing Hield can do — and let's just assume Guilbeau misspoke when he said "Guiled" — it's shoot. And the Sixers certainly need a shooter. But obviously it would be a major shock if they took Hield. 

It will be important for Simmons to develop an outside shot, and it might be more important for him to play under a quality head coach. Guilbeau wasn't praiseworthy of LSU's Johnny Jones, whose Tigers improved in each of his first three seasons as head coach before Simmons' arrival.

LSU won 19 games in 2013, 20 in 2014 and 22 in 2015 — and reached the NCAA Tournament.

"It's going to depend on the coach he gets too," Guilbeau said. "I would say he's never really had a great X and O coach yet in his career. He was on a team that had quite a few players last year, and they didn't do too well. So maybe it will be different depending on what team he goes to. He didn't play under Coach K or anything like that."

For more discussion on the topic, watch Thursday's edition of Lunch Break.