Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

Some Silver Linings on the Horizon for Flyers

The Flyers are 8-10-1 through 19 games, standing on the
outside of the postseason picture looking in, and many observers are wondering if
this is even a good team. Our own Tim Panaccio questioned earlier this week whether or not they
can get it done
as currently constructed, and as
of Friday the Daily News’ Sam Donnellon has already concluded that nope, they
can’t, thanks for playing.

It’s fairly obvious to anybody this team is not where they
want to be yet, and not just in the standings. They’re still prone to sluggish
starts, still a pitiful 4-8 on the road, still not winning enough faceoffs,
still allowing 3.05 goals per game despite the fact that Ilya Bryzgalov has
been one of their best players so far.

In short, they haven’t had the look of a club that could put
together a Stanley Cup run, and there isn’t much room to debate that. Having said that, you might want to consider at least pumping the brakes ever so gently, because the worst
appears to be over for the Flyers, at least in terms of the schedule.

The Flyers have played an absolutely brutal slate unlike any
other in the NHL up to this point. For starters, they’ve been in 19 games
already, the highest total in the league. For comparison’s sake, only three teams were
even at 18 after Thursday night, and half the league is sitting at 16 or less. 19 contests
in 34 days would take a toll on any hockey team.

And how did they get to 19? Six, count ‘em, six
back-to-backs. Everybody has them in a condensed schedule, but how many played
six in a month? As if that weren’t enough, every last one of them has
involved travel, which ought to come as no surprise given the Flyers have played 12 on
the road compared to seven at the Wells Fargo Center.

The degree of difficulty in Philadelphia’s schedule so far
has been enormous bordering on insane – but finally that’s all about to change.

Things are finally going to get back to some sense of
normalcy for the Flyers from here on out. 12 of the next 17 tilts are at home,
with only one back-to-back between now and March 30. Things are going
to quiet down so much at one point in fact, there is actually a stretch of five consecutive days
off in mid-March, which should theoretically help the guys recharge their
batteries before heading into the final stretch.

Further complicating the first portion of their schedule
were several key absences, some longer than others. Danny Briere, Wayne
Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, and Sean Couturier have all missed games
at one time or another, and although bumps and bruises are par for the course,
the Flyers have also been without Scott Hartnell and Andrej Meszaros almost the
whole way.

Both Hartnell and Meszaros are expected back within the next
couple weeks, and while Matt Read replaces them on the injured list (six weeks to torn rib cage muscle – ouch) with more sure to follow, it will be good to get back a key component of the top line and
some defensive reinforcement. Hartsy could provide an especially big
boost now that Claude Giroux seems to have found a comfort zone with Jakub
Voracek, and Meszaros certainly can’t make their blue-line depth any worse.

Do a friendlier schedule plus a couple players returning to
the lineup equal the Flyers' season turning around? Does it correct or even mask
every single one of their flaws? No, and no. They still need to go out and win
games, and do so with a patchwork defense and a headcase in net.

Before we go and rule them out as contenders though, maybe
we should see what the rest of the season brings now that the Flyers finally have a
chance to catch their breath and recuperate a little.

They've made some strides in recent weeks, climbing toward the top 10 in scoring and power-play conversion rate, and the all-around effort has been more consistent over the past three games. Plus, all of the injuries have helped them to identify quality young players in their system who could find themselves pressed into critical roles down the road – guys like Tye McGinn and Harry Zolnierczyk.

After beginning the season 2-6, the Flyers have since gone on to post a 6-4-1 record in their last 11 in spite of everything. Given the circumstances, another assessment might conclude they are actually a team that's trending up.

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:"";
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif";
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”