The Read-Couturier-Downie line has been pretty good for the Flyers, who play the crummy Panthers tonight

The Read-Couturier-Downie line has been pretty good for the Flyers, who play the crummy Panthers tonight

As you may have heard, the Flyers are 6-0-1 in their last seven games, have earned 13 of a possible 14 points during the successful stretch and have clawed their way out of the Metropolitan Division basement to currently sit just two points behind the New York Rangers for the division’s last playoff spot.

That’s quite an accomplishment considering the way the Orange and Black didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. You know what I’m talking about. No need to rehash the horror scenes and kill the good vibes we’ve got going here.

How have they turned things around?

There are plenty of reasons, but a particularly vital cog in the Flyers’ resurgence has been the “third” line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie.

Since head coach Craig Berube put the trio together on Nov. 12 when Downie returned to action from a facial injury, they have been running roughshod over opponents.

In that six-game stretch, the line has produced six goals and 12 assists. Five of those goals belong to Read, who has scored two goals in each of his last two games and is tied with Vinny Lecavalier for the team led in goals with eight. The other goal belongs to Couturier, who finally broke his 25-game goal-less drought when he scored last week against visiting Ottawa.

While Downie hasn’t scored, he’s contributed six assists to the cause. The Flyers are 6-1-1 with Downie in the lineup since he was acquired on Halloween for Max Talbot.

Part of the success is due to the line often seeing favorable matchups and taking advantage of them with their skill.

They are so good defensively that the trio usually plays against opponent’s most-skilled line. For example, they’ll see Alexander Ovechkin’s line when they play the Capitals or they’ll see John Tavares’ line when they play the Islanders.

Sometimes, those highly-skilled lines don’t feature the most defensive-minded players.  Read, Couturier and Downie take advantage of those defensive deficiencies and put points on the board.

The trio scores timely goals too.

Take for example last Thursday’s win over the Sabres. The Flyers had a lackluster first 30 minutes against a terrible team. That was until the “third” line got out there, went to work on the forecheck, forced a few turnovers, netted two goals courtesy of Read and lit a fire under both the team and the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

They did it again in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the visiting Islanders. The Flyers were sloppy in the first period but the “third” line ignited a three-goal second period when Read scored 46 ticks into the frame.

They are almost reminiscent of the Scott Hartnell-Danny Briere-Ville Leino line that was put together during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the way they gel despite different styles.

Read is the speedy scorer. Couturier is the defense-first center who is slowly starting to get his scoring talent on track. And Downie is the gritty winger who isn’t afraid to get physical and get into the dirty areas to make a play.

Call them a “third” line if you want, but they’ve been the Flyers’ top line during the team’s recent hot streak.

The softer schedule as of late certainly hasn't hurt either.

During the team’s seven-game point streak, the opponents the Flyers have faced have a combined 54-78-14 record. The only team of any relevance and that currently holds a playoff spot that the Flyers have played in this stretch was those filthy Penguins.

That trend continues tonight when the Flyers visit the Panthers to begin a quick two-game jaunt through Florida.

The Panthers are not a very good team.

With a 6-13-5 record and spared only by the mess with that is the Sabres, they currently sit in second-to-last place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

They feature solid, young talents in this past draft’s second-overall pick Aleksander Barkov and last year’s rookie-of-the-year Jonathan Huberdeau, but that’s about all there is to write home about them.

But, hey, insane politico goaltender Tim Thomas is the Panthers’ goalie, so there’s that, I guess.

Steve Mason will get the call between the pipes for the Flyers.

The Flyers beat the Panthers, 2-1 during the teams’ first meeting back in October and that was when the Flyers were in full tailspin mode coming out of the gate. In fact, that win was the Orange and Black’s only win in their first seven games.

The Flyers are 4-3-2 away from home this season and have a glorious chance to improve that record and grab two more points that are ripe for the picking.

It’s not 25 freakin’ degrees in South Florida right now like it is here so they won’t have that for an excuse.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Hellickson's potential final start falls on anniversary of Hamels no-no

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Hellickson's potential final start falls on anniversary of Hamels no-no

Phillies (45-55) at Marlins (53-45)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After three straight series losses to begin the second half, the Phillies head to Miami for three games with the Marlins. It's the second leg of a 10-game road trip that takes the Phils to Atlanta for four games later in the week.

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. Hellickson's sendoff?
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 21st and potentially final start for the Phillies tonight in South Florida. The Marlins are one of the teams after him, so it's possible he could just switch clubhouses later this week. 

Hellickson has boosted his trade value substantially over the last five weeks, posting a 2.54 ERA with five quality starts in six tries. He enters Monday's game 7-7 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Those are better and more consistent numbers than you'll find attached to many other pitchers on the trade market, rentals or otherwise. 

It was on this day last year that Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubs which turned out to be the tipping point for the Rangers, who several days later traded the Phillies six players, four of whom were intriguing prospects who are thriving in this organization. Hellickson isn't going to no-hit the Fish tonight, but if he has a similarly well-timed good start, it could result in a better return for the Phils this time around, too.

Hellickson's last start was against the Marlins in the only game last week's four-game series that the Phillies won. He allowed one run on five hits over eight innings with eight strikeouts.

Hellickson's control has been superb this season. He's walked just 27 batters in 119⅔ innings, or 2.0 per nine innings. That's nearly a full walk per nine less than his previous career rate of 2.9. It's a major reason that Hellickson has been able to maintain a sub-4.00 ERA despite allowing 19 home runs in 20 starts.

2. Scouting Cosart
The Phillies will face their former farmhand Jarred Cosart, who is 0-1 with a 7.98 ERA in three starts this season. It's been a troubling year for Cosart, who missed a month with an oblique injury and has spent most of the season struggling at Triple A. He had a 5.22 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 12 starts with Triple A New Orleans.

Way back in 2011, Cosart headlined the Astros' return in the Hunter Pence trade. Houston received Cosart, Jon Singleton, Josh Zeid and Domingo Santana for the rightfielder. None panned out in the Astros' organization, with Cosart getting traded three years later, Singleton continuing to struggle in the minors and Santana ending up in Milwaukee.

Cosart has disappointed the most of the bunch. After going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA in 2014, his career has taken a downward trend. He's never been a big strikeout guy despite throwing in the mid-90s, and his control has always been poor. Cosart has walked 15 batters in 14⅔ innings this season and 4.3 per nine innings in his major-league career. 

He did have success, though, in three starts against the Phillies last season, going 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 12 strikeouts to three walks in 15 innings. But this lineup is much different than that one. 

Cosart is mostly a three-pitch pitcher who uses a cutter, sinker and curveball. The cutter is his main pitch, averaging 93 mph. 

3. Injuries piling up
In the span of just a few days, Maikel Franco was hit by a pitch on the wrist, Cameron Rupp was hit in the helmet and Andres Blanco fractured a finger. They've been three of the Phillies' five best offensive players this season.

Franco returned on Sunday to replace Blanco, a good sign that he should be ready to go this week in Miami and Atlanta. But each Franco at-bat bears watching because wrist injuries can sap a player of his power. 

Rupp, too, could return as soon as tonight after passing MLB's concussion protocol. He's hitting .276 with 17 doubles, 10 home runs and an .810 OPS in his breakout 2016 season.

4. Bourjos back to Earth
After hitting .410 in June, Peter Bourjos has hit .227 in July with a meager .263 on-base percentage. He's 4 for 36 (.111) over his last nine games with one walk, one RBI an 10 strikeouts.

Bourjos is another player the Phillies could trade this week to clear up room on the roster for Aaron Altherr and/or Nick Williams. In Bourjos and Jimmy Paredes, the Phils have replaceable outfielders who don't figure to factor too much into their future. It wouldn't simply be wishful thinking to say that by next week, the Phils' starting outfield could be Williams in left field, Odubel Herrera in center and Altherr in right.

Altherr's rehab assignment ends on Wednesday. At that point the Phillies must decide whether to call him up or option him to Triple A. 

5. Almost Thompson time?
It's no coincidence that IronPigs ace Jake Thompson pitches tonight, the same night as Hellickson. Thompson would be a ready-made replacement for Hellickson in the rotation if/when Hellickson is traded. Thompson is on a ridiculous roll at Triple A, having allowed just four earned runs over his last 62⅓ innings spanning nine starts. He's lowered his ERA from 4.23 to 2.29 over that stretch thanks to a sky-high rate of weak groundballs.

Even if Thompson were to struggle tonight, the Phillies would still likely turn to him to replace Hellickson. There doesn't seem to be much left for him to prove at Triple A, where every International League starting pitcher with an ERA even close to his 2.29 has been called up to the majors.

Are the Eagles Better or Worse in 2016?

Are the Eagles Better or Worse in 2016?

If optimism for the Eagles in 2016 is a little lacking, that's certainly understandable. A lot of people got their hopes up the past few years, only to be let down hard. This feels like a franchise in transition now, with an inexperienced head coach — even as first-timers go — entirely different schemes and a bunch of new staff members. And the quarterback is still Sam Bradford, who has never taken a team to the playoffs, while the organization made it clear he has no future here when they moved up to the No. 2 pick in the draft and selected Carson Wentz. In fact, the only thing that might get some fans excited is the prospect of Wentz playing, which seemingly isn't going to happen as long as Doug Pederson has his way.

Yet while 2016 isn't exactly going to be Super Bowl or bust, and it could be awhile before we see the quarterback of the future play a regular season game, expectations might be a little too low. People are acting and talking as if the Eagles were one of the worst teams in the NFL last year, when actually they won seven games. Obviously that's nothing to brag about, but when we go through position by position and determine the personnel has improved almost across the board, it's a little strange to hear the majority of fans and media talk as if this is still just a seven- or eight-win squad.

In fairness, that might be the case. Bradford has never won more than seven games in a season, while Wentz and backup Chase Daniel own one NFL victory between them. Pederson didn't even start coaching in the NFL until 2010, and has just three years experience as an offensive coordinator, under an offensive coach mind you, one who has never shown a great mastery of game management at that. On the flip side, Jim Schwartz has been successful at every stop, but is tasked with taking a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 alignment, and a group that's formed one of the worst units in the league. A tough schedule does the Eagles no favors either, and did we mention Bradford?!?!

So yeah, pessimism hangs over the Eagles appropriately and for a reason. But is this team not better than last year's? Bradford or not, is he not more likely to succeed after a healthy offseason and some familiar faces among the supporting cast? Will Schwartz and his proven scheme not immediately restore some credibility to this defense? Did Pederson not learn from one of the most successful NFL coaches of the free-agency era, but also the best head coach in Eagles history in Andy Reid?

We're not yet prepared to go so far as to say the Eagles will win their division, which should also be better in 2016, or that they're going to the playoffs. Then again, it's July and the first day of training camp, so why not? We've already established that they are better. Now here are three key reasons why that might manifest itself in the team's record.

1. The offensive line is upgraded and deeper

What was the biggest reason for the Eagles' quick turnaround under Chip Kelly in 2013, when the club went from 4-12 in its final season under Reid to 10-6 and division champions? All five members of the offensive line started all 17 games, and it was a stellar unit that paved the way for a LeSean McCoy rushing championship.

With the anchor of the group, Jason Peters, now 33 and coming off a dismal, injury-plagued season, the O-line's ceiling may not be so high, while injuries are impossible to predict. That being said, the unit should be vastly improved. Even if Peters is half the player he once was, the guard situation has been resolved, with Brandon Brooks taking over at right, and a battle between veterans Allen Barbre and Stefan Wisniewski and rookie Isaac Seumalo on the left. It's a much deeper group overall as well, which means unlike in past years, they might even be able to withstand an injury or two. Ryan Mathews isn't likely to lead the NFL in rushing or anything, but with an improved interior and sane offensive philosophy, the offense should be stronger up front.

2. The defense won't be on the field all the time

Schwartz could easily turn the Eagles defense into a middle-of-the-pack unit in just one season on the job. Of course, the fact that a constant inefficient uptempo offense won't constantly have them out of the field might be the biggest factor of all.

There are questions about the personnel. Is there a feared pass-rusher coming off the edge? Who are the starting cornerbacks? What happens if the injury prone linebackers start dropping like flies? Fletcher Cox is irreplaceable. And all of that being said, the Eagles' defense almost has to be better, simply by virtue of they aren't guaranteed to lead the NFL in opponents' time of possession for the fourth season in a row. It's no coincidence they would fall apart late in games and in seasons. They were gassed from playing 40 minutes every week. Add the Schwartz effect, which should be huge, and we might not be talking merely a jump to league average. This could become a top-10 defense overnight.

3. The coaching will better

Pederson may be a total unknown, but he would have to work pretty hard to mess things up any worse than Chip. Kelly had lost half the locker room by about midway through last season, maybe sooner, and judging by how bitter most of the players who left beforehand were, perhaps never had the full support of a team. He could be petty and infantile, and not only that, but his "innovative" offense and philosophies were eventually exposed. Non-stop tempo was in many ways problematic, and opponents routinely pointed out he would only call about 15-to-20 unique plays a game. The staff is better too, at least the guys they replaced, primarily in that you'll take Schwartz over Bill Davis all day.

The Eagles managed to win seven games last season, and that was with a rift in the locker room, a rift in the front office, a basic college offense, a defense that was always on the field and guiding philosophies that it's become apparent simply do not work in the NFL. That suggests that maybe, just maybe, the talent level is a little bit better than their record suggests, and that if Pederson is any kind of NFL coach at all, could perhaps improve quite a bit.

Previously: QuarterbacksRunning BacksWide ReceiversTight EndsOffensive LineDefensive LineLinebackersSafetiesSpecial Teams, CBs

Watch: Pokemon players ignore Phillies game to catch 'em all

Watch: Pokemon players ignore Phillies game to catch 'em all

The700Level Show's video gurus (nerds) took a trip over to Citizens Bank Park last week when the Phillies were promoting Pokemon Go lures at all of the PokeStops inside of the stadium. 

Some random quotes from the Pokemon fans, in their own words:

"There's like a million lures right now, so I might not actually sit down. I might just walk laps so I can catch like a million Pokemon."

"I'm kind of fighting the urge to walk around the stadium instead of watch the game right now."

"My egg just hatched."

"I'll be playing Pokemon Go at Wawa."

"People are like, 'get a life!'"

"I walked directly into a car, that was interesting."

"Constant loss of my dignity for being an adult and playing a children's game."

There you have it. Catch 'em all!