Phillies’ Momentum Must Continue in Miami

Phillies’ Momentum Must Continue in Miami

Don’t look now, but the Phillies have won five of their last seven, matching their best stretch so far this season. A trip to Miami would seem like the perfect way to capitalize on this recent good fortune, yet it was the lowly Marlins who halted their momentum the last time.

After taking the first two of a four-game set against the Fish, the Phils collapsed. They were unable to solve rookie and master jacket wearer Jose Fernandez for the second time in Game 3, getting held to one hit in a shutout loss. Then came the Roy Halladay meltdown, along with his subsequent apology to the fans and ensuing surgery.

While you can’t necessarily expect them to win every day – even if it is the Marlins – splitting isn’t quite getting the job done, either. At 12-32, Miami is tied for the worst record in baseball, and they’ve produced the fewest runs in the Majors by a whopping 25, averaging 2.66 per game.

And up to this point, the Phillies are just 4-3 through two series with the NL East foe.

Despite the inability to fully take advantage of their weakest opponent – not to mention they’ve been below .500 themselves for over a month since April 15 – Philadelphia has managed to stay within striking distance of the division leaders. The Fightins are 4.5 back of the Braves for first place, 2.5 behind the Nationals in second.

They’ll have a chance to reverse the gap with the Nats in their head-to-head series later this week in Washington, but only if they take care of business down by South Beach first.

Marlins pitching has given the Phillies fits though, particularly Fernandez and Kevin Slowey, both of whom they run into again this week. Fernandez has completed baffled Charlie Manuel’s crew, holding the Phils to three hits over 13 innings, while Slowey has held them to one run through 12.1.

Manuel will be shorthanded as well, at least for the start of the series. Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard were both delayed so they could get MRIs. Howard is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow – although that does not automatically mean he will be available – but Triple-A catcher Humberto Quintero traveled with the team to Florida in case Chooch winds up on the DL.

Update: Howard is day-to-day, while Ruiz will hit the DL on Tuesday and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a hamstring strain.

Those may not even be the biggest absences. With Doc out for the foreseeable future, John Lannan still unavailable, and no obvious options to fill that fifth spot, Tyler Cloyd is slated to return in Game 2 for his second start of the year. That could be a tough draw with Fernandez on for Miami.

Setup man Mike Adams officially went on the 15-day DL on Monday as well, placing additional pressure on the bullpen as well. Quintero replaces him on the 25-man roster.

Even taking all of that into consideration, this is the one opponent where you can’t complain about having a handful of guys out of action. The Phillies should be taking two of three from this sorry club every time, bare minimum.

If they do that much at least, the Phils could be heading into a three-game set with the rival Nats winners of seven or possibly eight of their last 10 – a genuine wave of momentum. It starts tonight with Cole Hamels, who has a chance to rebound against the worst offense in baseball.

Then again, if Hamels continues to struggle with his command, gets knocked around by the Marlins, and fails to pick up his second win of the season, that could establish an entirely different tone, perhaps even washing away their momentum entirely.

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

In 1st game post-Ersan Ilyasova, Dario Saric shines as Sixers' starting PF

When Ersan Ilyasova was traded to the Hawks on Wednesday, it became Dario Saric's time to shine.

And shine he did in the Sixers' 120-112 win over the Wizards Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. In the first game coming off the All-Star break, Saric got the starting nod at power forward. He certainly looked the part, posting 20 points (10 of 19 from the field), 11 rebounds and four assists.

Saric, now the only true four on the roster, was proud of his team's performance against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a lot of veterans who can share the ball and that's how you're supposed to play," Saric said. "For me I'm not surprised if we [beat the third-best team] in the East, but I believe these guys can play very good basketball."

Saric was excellent in the starting role, but his exceptional play dates back before the All-Star break. Including Friday, he's averaged 20.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.5 assists over his last six games. The Sixers are 4-2 in that span.

Head coach Brett Brown is seeing what he expected to see from the Croatian rookie.

"He's a professional basketball player," Brown said. "He has been that for a while. His love of the game, his passion for the game is contagious. It's a thing that we loved maybe more than anything about him when we did the deal with Orlando, knowing however many years ago with the trade with Elfrid Payton and Saric. That was a calculated move."

Saric played almost 33 minutes Friday night. So what did Brown do to give Saric a breather? He sent out Robert Covington.

Covington has played the position most of his life but has spent his entire Sixers career on the wing. In a time of need, he stepped up for a team still adjusting to roster changes.

The 6-foot-8 Covington held his own against the likes of Philly native Markieff Morris. It didn't seem to faze his offensive game, either. Covington scored 25 points on 9 of 14 from the field (5 of 9 from three). He also added 11 rebounds and three assists.

Covington has also been a catalyst for the Sixers during their recent success. He's averaging 17.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.2 steals in his last six. He's also shot a ridiculous 46 percent from three (19 of 41) in that span.

"We can only control what we're able to control on the court," Covington said. "Everything outside of what they do in management doesn't include us. We can only focus on what we can control on the court, and that's what our main focus was on these last few days."

Saric continues to show that he was worth wait while Covington continues to prove that he's a keeper.

They've certainly had different paths. Saric was a lottery pick and regarded as one the top young players in Europe. Covington went undrafted out of Tennessee State and spent the 2013-14 primarily with the Rockets' D-League affiliate.

Bryan Colangelo has identified Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the team's "transformational players." That's likely true, but every NBA team needs guys like Saric and Covington to complement their stars.

Covington is impressed with the progress of Saric in his rookie season.

"Dario's a very special player," Covington said. "He's able to do so much on the court. Tonight, you saw every aspect of his game. He'll guard, defending, rebounding and making plays on the offensive game. That's what Dario does. Now that he's going to play more in the starting lineup, it's really going to help him."

Saric may be the frontrunner to take home the Rookie of the Month for February. He's second only to Joel Embiid in double-doubles (seven) and 20-point games (six) among rookies. Whether it's Saric or Embiid, it appears the Rookie of the Year will be a Sixer.

His promotion to the starting lineup and wins against teams like the Wizards should only help Saric's cause.

"Maybe you see [me start consistently], maybe not," Saric said. "The game first time here I try to find myself. I got a couple rebounds, but still I try to find myself with the new role. I've tried to move around, catch the rhythm of the game, that's the most important thing in basketball."

He appeared to find himself just fine Friday night.

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.