Seething a Good Thing for Phillies Right Now

Seething a Good Thing for Phillies Right Now

Heading into last night's game in Washington, the Phillies still had a slim chance to prevent being on the other end of another team's celebration. Who ever said that would have been a positive?

By now you know the Nationals lost, but experienced their moment of glory anyway because the Braves couldn't take care of business against the Pirates. Know what? That's okay, and not just because it was bound to happen anyway.

For once, it was good the shoe was on the other foot this time, because now the Phillies are mad. Charlie Manuel said as much as after the game, and in this instance, it's safe to say he was speaking for a number of guys in the clubhouse. Via John Gonzalez:

While the Nationals – clad in division championship hats and T-shirts – stood on the field and addressed their fans following the game, Charlie Manuel sat in the visiting manager’s office. He didn’t look or sound happy. The Phillies won the game, but Manuel said, “we got beat” as reporters filed into the room and stood around his desk.

“It made me mad, yeah, yes it did,” Manuel said about the Nationals claiming what the Phillies had owned for the last five years. “I’m a bad loser. Nobody should be a good loser. I’m a bad loser and I always will be.

“I’ve been mad for three or four weeks. It just hadn’t been coming out.”

Sure, the Phillies have watched opponents celebrate during their unprecedented run of success, but I'm not convinced anger was ever quite the emotion it elicited.

When they lost the World Series to the Yankees in '09, there was still a sense of accomplishment in that. When the Giants beat them in the NLCS the following year, it was more a feeling of crushing disappointment. When the Cardinals upended the Phillies in the Divisional Series last season, they were stunned.

This is something else entirely. After a group as talented and as decorated as this roster has played 160 games, already knowing they won't even get a sniff of the playoffs, seeing their rivals jump for joy could only incite rage.

It's a picture they will carry all offseason.

Not that motivation was the problem for the Phillies in 2012, or that they needed any more of it to get back on track. The single biggest factor that led to their being on the outside looking in was injuries, a problem that we can only hope will remedy itself next year. I don't buy this notion they ever became complacent, either -- not with the personalities in that dugout, not when they set a franchise record with 102 wins only a season ago.

I also don't think the added slight of being completely powerless to stop the Nats from winning the NL East can hurt, either. The Phillies may have had better teams since winning the World Series, but they were at their absolute best back in '08 when they still had everything to prove.

That sense of having something to prove will be alive and well when pitchers and catchers report in February. Good, because it suits them well.

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Andrew Knapp's long homer a bright spot for skidding Phillies as rookie pushes Cameron Rupp

Hidden in the Phillies' sub-par Sunday was one bright spot: Andrew Knapp.

The young backup catcher blasted a long home run into the Phillies' bullpen that gave them an early lead they would soon relinquish in an 8-4 loss to the Reds. The long ball comes on the heels of Knapp's first back-to-back starts earlier in the week.

"The more playing time you get, the better you feel," he said. "That's just the way it goes. I'm just trying to take my opportunities and take advantage of them. Unfortunately, we didn't win today, but the more at-bats I get, the better I feel."

The 25-year-old rookie was handed a prime opportunity in the second inning with two men on and one out. Starter Scott Feldman put him behind 0-2 with consecutive fastballs and tried to put him away upstairs. Knapp stayed poised and laid off both pitches, waiting for a mistake.

And the mistake came with a belt-high curveball that Knapp barreled 434 feet for a three-run homer.

"I wasn't really looking for it," he said. "I knew he liked to throw it with two strikes. It was kind of in the back of my head. But I was just looking for something out over the dish. He was pounding me in, but I was going to make him beat me away. I thankfully got that one out in front a bit."

Knapp is now 53 at-bats into his MLB career and has an impressive .264/.371/.509 batting line with three home runs and seven RBIs. He's played well enough to push starting catcher Cameron Rupp for more playing time and earn himself some extra starts beyond day games after night games.

"I feel good," Knapp said. "I'm learning a lot. Each at-bat in itself is its own thing and you can't really have much rollover. At the same time, the more I get in there, the better I feel and the more experience I get. So I feel good so far."

Rupp has been solid at the plate, although he dealt with some issues defensively last week. As Knapp got consecutive starts, Rupp sat out both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Rockies. He rebounded with a three-walk game Thursday afternoon.

With Knapp swinging the bat well, manager Pete Mackanin hopes it will only push Rupp to level his game up.

"Competition is great for pitchers and for position players and I think it's good," Mackanin said. "Knapp hit that home run today. He's been swinging the bat pretty well, catching pretty well and that's only, in my opinion, going to make Rupp better."

On Friday, Mackanin said he would give Knapp more playing time, looking to possibly split starts between Rupp and Knapp at four and three starts, respectively, per week. That's how it worked out during this past homestand.

The manager was unsure what the upward limit on Knapp's starts could be, but he was pleased about his catching situation despite the team's overall issues.

"Cam hasn't been swinging the bat that well lately, but they're both going to get playing time," Mackanin said. "Cam will get the brunt of the playing time. For me, it's a great situation. Now we have two guys that we think a lot of."

Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

Nico Hischier recounts meteoric rise in draft stock as Flyers do their homework

WINDSOR, Ontario -- Ever since the Flyers shot up the selection order at last month’s NHL draft lottery, prospect and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier has been familiarizing himself with the Flyers' organization.

The Flyers entered the lottery with just a 2.2 percent shot at the first overall pick after finishing the season with a 39-33-10 record but climbed 11 spots from the 13th selection to No. 2 in the draft, which takes place June 23-24 in Chicago.

“I know it’s a sports city — they have the NHL, NBA and all those sports,” Hischier said Saturday at the Memorial Cup. “It’s a really nice city and I know Mark Streit played there and Jakub Voracek played in Halifax as well.”

The Flyers' brass has wasted no time familiarizing themselves with the 18-year-old, who spent this season playing with the Mooseheads in the QMJHL.

“We had already a little meeting together, but I think at combine we’ll see each other again,” said Hischier, who is ranked second amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. “It was just that they want to know me better as a person. They asked me some personal questions and that’s about it.”

A native of Naters, Switzerland, Hischier grew up playing soccer. He was also an avid skier and snowboarder before his older brother, Luca, turned him on to hockey.

“I used to ski a lot,” Hischier said. “First skiing, and then snowboarding, but my brother played hockey, he’s four years older than me, then I just wanted to play hockey as well.”

Last season, Hischier followed his brother to Bern, where he played 15 games in the Swiss pro league with several former NHLers while he was coached by current Senators bench boss Guy Boucher.

The six-foot, 174-pound center registered one assist in his brief stint with the club but gained valuable experience in the process.

“I think that helped me a lot because they’re all older guys and they gave me some good tips, too,” he said. “I really could learn from them and it’s great that I could play with them.

“I think I learned a lot (from Boucher). He brought Canadian hockey to Switzerland, I think. His practices were hard and I could really learn from him.”

Halifax used the sixth selection at last year’s CHL import draft to pick Hischier, and after a little convincing, the lanky forward made the decision to make the move to North America.

“I just came to Canada to try to become a better hockey player and I worked hard,” he said. “I had great teammates, and Halifax is a great organization.”

Adjusting to the smaller rinks in North America admittedly took time for Hischier, but he adapted well leading all CHL rookies in scoring with 38 goals and 48 assists in 57 games. On Saturday, he was named the CHL’s rookie of the year (see story).

“I think I improved my game in the corners,” Hischier said. “You have to dump more pucks over here on North American ice, and chase the puck more behind the net. At the end, I would say my play in the corners (improved the most).”

Growing up, Hischier watched former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk closely, trying to model his game after the Russian forward.

He spent time this season playing both the wing and center positions and isn’t afraid to go to the net hard despite his slender frame. His offensive talents coupled with his ability to play both ends of the ice is what caused his draft stock jump from 26th on ISS Hockey’s rankings in November to a top-three position in January.

Internationally, Hischier made a splash at this year’s Under-20 world junior tournament in Toronto and Montreal, scoring a team-leading four goals and seven points in five games.

The highlight came in the quarterfinals where Hischier nearly single-handedly upset the Americans, scoring two goals in a 3-2 loss.

The performance led to a glowing review from U.S. coach Bob Motzko.

“He was the best player we’ve seen in this tournament,” Motzko said following the game. “We tried all four lines against him and I thought he was playing every shift because every time he got out there, the ice was tilted. It was the first thing we said when we got into the locker room: ‘That’s the best player we’ve seen in the tournament.’”

After the Mooseheads' first-round playoff exit, Hischier once again donned his country’s colors, registering one assist in five games at the U-18 tournament.

However, he skipped out on an opportunity to represent Switzerland at the senior men’s tournament in favor of relaxation.

“It was really important (to recover),” he said. “I went a couple days away from Switzerland to the beach (in Italy) and just relaxed. It was really great. Had to refill my tank and it was just great.”

Hischier will get another opportunity to meet with the Flyers’ front office this week in Buffalo at the NHL’s scouting combine. It’s believed Hischier could make the jump to the NHL in the fall, but he knows he still has some work to do this summer to make his dream come true.

“Get some pounds on, I want to get stronger,” said Hischier. “I think that’s the most important thing and I work hard towards that.”