Holdin on to Orange & Black Mettle

Holdin on to Orange & Black Mettle

Is
this the final Flyers gamethread of the 2011-2012 season? With no reason
to obfuscate the obvious, we need to accept the possibility that unless
the Flyers can dramatically turn around the trends of the past three
games, it will be. 

Even some diehard Flyers junkies are calling this
series over already. We're definitely not ready to do that, but we can
understand the perception of lifelessness. The series with the Devils
has been like a four-game methadone dose after two weeks of sped up junk
in the Pittsburgh series. Dramatic highs and excruciating lows replaced
by a gradual dulling of the senses. We still want what nearly killed us
in the first round, but we can barely remember it. 

Without his best player, who has been suspended for a
possible series-deciding game, Peter Laviolette is tasked with
establishing a gameplan that can penetrate an amazingly efficient
forecheck, then generate something resembling sustained pressure. Since
game 1, the Flyers have rarely been able to do so. Failing again tonight
will mean the golf clubs and another early departure from the
postseason—the hallmark of my hockey-watching life. 

Can they turn it around not only tonight, but the next three games?
No GamObviously
the odds are against them. Taking Claude Giroux off the ice doesn't
help matters, although the optimists among us will hope it causes a few
other faces to step up and take control of a listless, toothless
offense. 

It's been said that perhaps G was trying to do too
much on every shift, a draining exercise if the shift proves futile.
Were others perhaps waiting for his heroics to emerge like they did in
the Pittsburgh series? 

How to beat the Devils' forecheck is something that
eludes me. Fortunately, I'm in great company, as Lavvy hasn't figured it
out yet either. Dumping and chasing isn't working, as the Devils are
either winning the race to the end boards or having the puck volleyed
back to them by Martin Brodeur, if icing isn't called. It's like trying
to play dump-and-chase against a team that has a third defenseman
sitting behind the net. 

Simply put, the Devils have been outstanding at
taking away the time the Flyers have to advance the puck. As soon as a
Philadelphia player touches it, a Devil is on him. Once they cross their
own blue line, it's like watching a full-court press, only it lasts all
game.

If the Flyers can't find an offensive strategy to
get through the gauntlet, perhaps the answer is a different style of
play when the Devils have the puck. Overall this series, they don't seem
to finishing checks well or making a point of taking the body whenever
possible. True this can, and has, lead to being out of position, but
maybe being more aggressive without the puck (within reason) will wear
the Devils down while ratcheting up the Flyers intensity to levels
rarely seen in this series. 

It's not a plan, just a place to start. The Flyers
have more talent, but they have not been the better team. The Devils
adherence to their system is the primary dividing line, but their
intensity has been a huge difference too. 
We'd add "Get traffic in front of Brodeur," but that too is pretty obvious, and anyway, they're not generating the shots that would benefit from traffic anyway. If there's time and space to wind and fire, then by all means, put a body in front of the old man. 

Mesz News Ever?Andrej Meszaros could return to the blue line in a last-ditch effort to stagnate an opportunistic Devils attack. No idea how effective he'll be after spending time on the shelf, or how close to 100% he is. 

Coming Up BryzOne thing's for certain,
regardless of what happens in this series, if the Flyers depart, it
won't be the sole fault of Ilya Bryzgalov. Depending on tonight's
action, virtually nothing can be blamed on him. Goaltending was the most
frequently cited concern in last year's playoffs, and ownership wanted
that silenced. For most of the season, it certainly was not, and Bryz
even drew criticism in the opening round, when he was on the ice for
what felt like a series-long shootout. 

But in a series showing far more measured pace, Bryz
has kept his team alive in games during which they've otherwise been
dominated. He hasn't stolen them the proverbial game yet, but it's hard
to ask for much more than he has given.

No one can go into this game thinking the season is over. We've seen the Flyers come back from worse and beat better.

7:30 start time on NBCSN. South Philly get loud.

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Today's lineup: Jorge Alfaro makes second straight start

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is making his second straight start after Saturday's 10-8 win.

Alfaro, the Phillies' top catching prospect, has gone 0 for 11 with a walk in his three career starts, all coming in the last two weeks since he was called up. Alfaro was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade last July and is 1 for 13 with a walk in five games. 

The 23-year-old will catch Jake Thompson in a game that means a lot more to the Mets (1:10/CSN).

Giving Alfaro playing time allows Phillies fans the chance to get a glimpse of the future. Roman Quinn has received plentiful playing time after was called up in the mid-September and Alfaro, like Quinn, is trying to leave an impression on the Phillies' brass before spring training.

Quinn is not in the lineup on Sunday as Aaron Altherr and Cody Asche man the corner outfield spots. Freddy Galvis moved up to second in the lineup after staying in the bottom half of the lineup in recent games.

Ryan Howard will bat fifth, playing likely his final game at Citi Field with the Phillies. While he has batted just .203 in 52 career games at Citi Field, he alos has 11 home runs there after smashing 12 homers at Shea Stadium, the Mets' previous stadium.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Robert Gsellman and the Mets.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Aaron Altherr, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

For more on today's game, check out Steven Tydings' game notes

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies-Mets 5 things: All the pressure on Mets, Gsellman

Phillies (70-85) at Mets (82-73)
1:10 p.m. on CSN

After two rough losses for the Phillies and their pitching staff, the offense picked them up and came through with a 10-8 win. 22-year-old Jake Thompson takes the hill this afternoon while Robert Gsellman starts a crucial game for the Mets.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday.

1. All the pressure on New York, Gsellman
The Mets remain 0.5 games up on the final National League playoff spot. 

While their pitching staff was falling apart at the seams going into (and during) this series, the one saving grace for New York was its soft schedule, facing the Phillies seven times in its last 10. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals have to deal with the MLB best Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants end the year vs. the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.

However, a loss on Saturday (thanks in part to Noah Syndergaard getting scratched with strep throat) puts the Mets in a precarious position. They're tied in the loss column with the Cards and Giants while fighting for one of two playoff spots and their rotation most closely resembles their Triple A team from Opening Day. 

Gsellman is one of those pitchers who started the year never having tasted the major leagues. In fact, he started the year in Double A. His first career start came at Citi Field last month against the Phillies and resulted in his first career loss after he allowed four runs in six innings. 

He's been better since that start, carrying a 3.13 ERA into Sunday. The 23-year-old righty will likely start vs. the Phillies again next weekend, meaning the Mets' season rides in part on a rookie with just 31 2/3 innings in the majors. 

2. Young man on a roll
While Gsellman lost his last start, Thompson has won his last two starts. The young righty is on a hot streak as his season nears an end.

Thompson's ERA has goe down in each of his last five starts, a stat made less impressive by the fact that he began that run with a 9.78 ERA. He has gone at least five innings in his last eight starts and has shown glimpses of why he was such a valued prospects.

In September, Thompson is 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four starts. He's still allowed 33 baserunners in 23 1/3 innings during that span, but it's been much better than his lackluster August.

While Thompson is in line to start next weekend against the Mets as well, today could be his final start of the season. He has already set a career-high in innings and the Phillies may not want to extend him one more start.

3. What to look for in the season's final week
Including Sunday, the Phillies have just seven games left in their season. They're eliminated from playoff contention, but there's still plenty to watch as the Phils take on Braves and Mets.

Ryan Howard's final fairwell: With his five-year, $125 million deal coming to a close this year, Howard is almost certainly playing his final games in Philadelphia next week. He'll get plenty of starts and may even face the Mets' Bartolo Colon, who he's smacked three home runs off of in his career.

Playing spoiler: As mentioned above, the Mets have everything on the line both today and next weekend in Philadelphia. There are few better ways to end a postseason-less season than knocking a rival out of playoff contention.

More looks at the kids: Roman Quinn's emergence over the last two weeks has been fun to watch and Jorge Alfaro may get more chances in the last seven games. Beyond them, Thompson, Tommy Joseph and others close out a nice first season. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Maikel Franco has looked more like his 2015 self over the last few weeks. He's batting .310 in September with three home runs, matching his August total. His 15 RBI this month are his most in a month other than July. 

Mets: Asdrubal Cabrera has been on fire this month as well. After battting .405 in August, he's batting .333 and has five home runs, including the walk-off homer on Thursday. He's slugging .628 this month after putting up a .786 slugging percentage in August. 

5. This and that
• In Gsellman's August start vs. the Phillies, he only allowed one run while he was in the game. However, he left the bases loaded in the 7th with no outs before A.J. Ellis knocked in the decisive two-run double to give the Phils a lead they would not relinquish.

• Six different Phillies batters had hits off Gsellman, including Jimmy Paredes who went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Despite pitching injuries, the Mets have the eighth-best team ERA in September with a 3.64 average. The Phillies are 15th in baseball with a 4.10 ERA this month.

• The Phillies are 6-9 against the Mets this year. They're already ensured of a better finish than last year's 5-14 mark vs. New York.

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