Is a Shortened Season Inferior? Does It Taint a Championship?

Is a Shortened Season Inferior? Does It Taint a Championship?

The lockout is over, hockey returns on Saturday, and we
couldn’t be more excited around here. That said, over 40% of the schedule was
lost as a result of the work stoppage, which in some minds might beg the
question: is this season legitimate?

Is the NHL able to meet the standard that has been set in
years past? Does winning the Stanley Cup mean less in a 48-game season than it
would after an 82-game season?

I think these are fair questions. Sports leagues are set up in
the interests of competitive balance. They are supposed to play the same number
of games every year, same number of home and away, they even use the same
framework to build the schedule every year – so many games against division
opponents, so many in or out of conference.

Following that logic, won’t some teams gain an advantage in
a shortened season that might be lost over the course of a grueling full-82? Perhaps
clubs with aging veterans who will have fresher legs come playoff time? Teams
in the Eastern Conference who will face less travel due to the proximity of
their opponents?

For what it’s worth, when you check the annals of history,
you won’t see any pesky asterisks – not in the lockout-shorted ’94-’95 campaign,
not in the strike-reduced baseball season of ‘95, not even when the NFL was
using replacement players in ’87. The New Jersey Devils, Atlanta Braves, and
Washington Redskins of those respective seasons are all recognized the same as
any champion.

As for the hockey itself, there’s reason to believe the
quality will actually improve. First and foremost, every game matters that much
more in a 48-game season, which should give it a race-to-the-finish feel. With
that increased energy, every team in the league should have more energy on a
nightly basis.

James Mirtle of the Toronto Globe and Mail argued back in
December that the real sham was playing 82 games to begin with, and that 48 is
even better in fact. He might be right. But when every other team had to
survive nearly twice as much hockey just for the right to earn a spot in the
tournament, is it equal or fair criteria to award a Stanley Cup?

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils, Fish try to fight out of NL East cellar

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Phils, Fish try to fight out of NL East cellar

Phillies (17-31) vs. Marlins (18-30)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped another series with an 8-4 loss to the Reds in Sunday's rubber match at Citizens Bank Park. Zach Eflin struggled and was promptly optioned to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Now the Phils head to Miami for a quick three-game road trip against the Marlins. Jeremy Hellickson will take the ball in Monday's opener, facing veteran Edinson Volquez.

Here are five things to know for Monday's contest:

1. Welcome back Howie
With the Phillies optioning Eflin, Howie Kendrick is the corresponding move, manager Pete Mackanin said Sunday. He will be reinstated from the 10-day disabled list after he was sidelined on Apr. 15 with an oblique injury.

In 10 games to begin the season, Kendrick played exclusively left field and batted .333/.395/.487. He had hits in eight of 10 appearances and had two three-hit games.

Kendrick rehabbed with Triple A Lehigh Valley, playing left field and third base. He began his career at second base and can play that and first base in a pinch.

To begin, he'll likely be used primarily as an outfielder. Mackanin hopes to spell his current trio and will take it slow with Kendrick to keep the 33-year-old healthy. Starting centerfielder Odubel Herrera will get a few days off soon, his manager said. Herrera is stuck in a 1-for-22 slide and has seen his batting line fall to a paltry .217/.264/.328. 

Kendrick's ability to play third could also come into play with Maikel Franco slumping. He's batting just .213 in an extended skid.

"He hit a ball hard today but he's not giving us consistent at-bats," Mackanin said about Franco. "He's searching both physically and mentally. It's not easy for him. I can tell he's down on himself. He's not happy about what's going on."

2. Jeremy on the hill
It's quite fitting that the Phillies face the Marlins in Miami on the seventh anniversary of Roy Halladay's perfect game. However, with the rotation's recent struggles, expectations of a repeat need to be tempered.

Hellickson is coming off his worst start of the season, although the bad start can be boiled down to just one poor inning. He gave up seven runs in the third inning on Wednesday vs. the red-hot Rockies, highlighted by a three-run homer by Carlos Gonzalez.

The start raised his ERA from 3.44 to 4.28. Still, the righty has had more good starts than bad this year, which is reflected by his 5-2 record. His strikeout rate has been halved from last season, yet his other peripherals have stayed level. To offset the lack of strikeouts, Hellickson has had really good command at times to the point where he induces a lot of weak contact. 

Facing the Marlins should be a major boon for 30-year-old. He went 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA over 40 1/3 innings against the Fish last year. He walked just three during those games and had a sterling 0.843 WHIP.

In April, he held the Marlins to just one run on seven hits in six innings. He really seems to have their number.

Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Bour are the three Marlins with home runs off of him. Christian Yelich is a solid 7 for 23 with a walk while Stanton is an awful 2 for 18 with two walks and six strikeouts. Dee Gordon is 5 for 14. 

3. Marlins overview
Make no mistake, this is an opponent ripe for the beating. While the Phillies have the worst record in baseball, the Marlins are just a game better and are 7-18 this month, being outscored by 39 runs. They did just take two of three from Mike Trout and the Angels.

The Fish have the fourth worst team ERA in baseball with a 4.74 mark. The Phillies are second worst with 4.85 while the Mets have a 4.93 team ERA. The Marlins have walked 210 batters as a team, 13 more than the second-highest total. Their pitchers have thrown the most HBPs (28) in the game. Simply put, control is not an asset they possess.

Just like Reds, the worst part of the team is their rotation. Their 5.11 ERA is better only than the Phillies and Reds. Adam Conley and Tom Koehler have struggled more than expected, plus they've used nine starters thanks to injuries. 

In the bullpen, A.J. Ramos is the closer and Kyle Barraclough is the key setup man. Ramos' ERA sits at 4.96. Veteran submarine pitcher Brad Ziegler has a 6.75 ERA while racking up the most appearances of any reliever. David Phelps and Nick Wittgren have been solid in middle relief.

On offense, Ozuna, Stanton Bour each have at least 12 homers. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has been strong both behind the plate and at the dish. A big issue has been Yelich, who has disappointed to the tune of a .268/.340/.402 batting line. That's not bad, but the 25-year-old was expected to have more of a breakout season.

4. Woeful with Volquez
This has not been a banner year for Volquez. The 33-year-old righty was signed to a two-year, $22 million deal this offseason and hasn't lived up to the billing through nine starts. He has an 0-7 record with a 4.87 ERA. He's walked a ton of batters (5.6 per nine innings to be exact) and has a 1.671 WHIP. 

He's never lived off control, but the walks are a bit extreme, his highest rate since 2009. He is three years removed from leading baseball with 15 wild pitches. Volquez baseball with 14 HBP his rookie year. At the same time, he was also an All-Star that season and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

In his career, he's been solid against the Phils. He has a 4-2 record wit ha 2.30 ERA over seven starts and 43 frames. He faced them in April, gave up three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings while losing to Hellickson.

Freddy Galvis has lit up Volquez in their meetings. He is 6 for 10 with a double, triple, homer and a walk against him. Michael Saunders is 3 for 13 with two walks. Franco is 2 for 5. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies have a few rotation options to fill Eflin's vacated spot. They won't need anyone until at least Saturday and they could skip a turn through the rotation with a day off on Thursday. 

They have three ready-made options to take that next turn when needed. Ben Lively has a 6-1 record with a 2.40 ERA in his second season with Lehigh Valley. Jake Thompson has struggled with a 5.88 ERA but has MLB experience. Nick Pivetta, who filled Aaron Nola's spot for three starts, is undefeated in five starts with a 1.41 ERA back in the minors.

• The Phillies won both games with the Fish in April. In fact, that was the last time they won back-to-back games. They went 10-9 vs. them last year, 5-4 at Marlins Park. This is their first series in Miami in 2017.

• Outfielder Daniel Nava will begin a rehab assignment with Triple A Lehigh Valley today. 

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

Phillies Prospect Notebook: Franklyn Kilome, Jose Taveras anchoring Clearwater's strong rotation

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Prospect Franklyn Kilome is the second-highest rated pitcher in the Phillies' organization, and the right-hander lived up to the billing Sunday, as the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' Class A Advanced affiliate, closed a three-game series at St. Lucie.

The right-hander twirled seven sparkling innings, shutting down the Mets’ hot bats, as the Threshers blanked St. Lucie 1-0 behind an unearned run at First Data Field to salvage the final game of the series.

Kilome, 21, allowed five hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in winning for the first time since April 27. Only one St. Lucie player managed to reach second base against the 6-foot-6, 175-pound pitcher.

The Dominican pitcher is ranked No. 7 overall by Baseball America among Phillies' prospects. Only 18-year-old Lakewood hurler Sixto Sanchez (fifth overall) is rated above him in the organization.

“He’s got a chance to be a workhorse. Good body, very good arm, but still learning how to pitch a little bit,” pitching coach Aaron Fultz said of Kilome, who improved to 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA.

“He’s up to 97 (mph) with a good curveball and slider. He’s learning a changeup. He’s learning the game, but he’s got a huge upside.”

Jose Taveras (4-2, 2.26) has been another reliable arm on Clearwater’s staff. He led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts last season and has 54 in 55 2/3 innings this year.

Taveras also handled St. Lucie on Saturday, but he was left with a no-decision after the bullpen gave up three runs in a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. The 23-year-old worked six strong innings and yielded just a run on four hits.  

“Taveras is just a very good competitor," Fultz said. "His fastball is average, pretty decent breaking ball and his changeup is good, but the thing that makes him good is he’s just a competitor. He studies the game and the hitters and is very advanced with that.”

Added Threshers manager Shawn Williams: “There are times when he may not have his usual command, and he’ll change an arm angle, which shows he’s got a good feel for what he’s doing. He’ll crossfire, has deception … he’s got something where they don’t pick up his fastball and are always late.”

A third Dominican right-hander, Seranthony Dominguez (3-0, 2.02), has been a big part of the rotation as well and has won three times in six starts but is currently sidelined with shoulder soreness. An MRI returned a clean report.

“The first three or four weeks we were ridiculously good," Fultz said. "We’ve had a few bumps in the road since then, but we’re getting the job done.”

Zach, not Francis Ford
Zach Coppola has a famous Hollywood last name, but the Clearwater corner outfielder has spent 2017 making a name for himself with his defense, at the plate and on the bases.

Coppola, 23, was 5 for 12 with two runs scored in the St. Lucie series, including Sunday’s lone run. He made a pair of outstanding run-saving catches in the outfield over the weekend and raised his average to .346, second to Chris Paul (.351) of Fort Myers.

“Zach has been doing a great job as a leadoff hitter,” Williams said of the Iowa native. “He gets big hits, bunts, but the thing for me is he does something every night to help you win, whether it’s a bunt hit or a great diving play in left-center. He’ll throw a guy out or get a great dirtball read and score the winning run.

“He’s a very good baseball player who does all the little things.”

Good contributors
The Threshers (28-23) have sat atop the FSL’s North Division for most of the first half, but a series loss at St. Lucie over the weekend left them trailing Dunedin by one game after both clubs won Sunday.

Williams said his first season skippering the club has been highlighted by a full-team effort.

“It’s been a little bit of everything,” Williams said. “Early on our pitching was very, very good. Cole (Irvin) was really dealing (see more on Irvin). Dominguez, everybody was. We were getting the big hits, and our defense has been very consistent. Overall, we’ve just played good baseball.”

One standout playing good ball has been 5-foot-5 middle infielder Grenny Cumana, who went 7 for 10 in the series and made a spectacular catch-and-throw on the grass behind the bag while playing second base to rob St. Lucie’s Vinny Siena of an infield hit Sunday.

Tenacious P
Fultz said one immeasurable he likes in his pitchers is a bulldog-like tenacity that has them wanting the ball in key moments, regardless of previous outcomes.

“I don’t have to have the guy who’s always going to succeed in the big situation, but I always want the guy that wants to be out there in that situation. To me, that’s the selling point,” he said. “It’s not always being successful; it’s always wanting to be in that situation, which is a big plus.”

Fultz said his favorite battler was Jamie Brewington, a teammate of his in the San Francisco farm system, who appeared in 40 games over two MLB seasons.

“He went right after hitters, and it was fun to watch,” Fultz said.