'07-'08 Flyers Preview

'07-'08 Flyers Preview

We've been so wrapped up with our Phillies here in the Illadelph that even us hardcore Flyers fans almost forgot that the Orange and Black start their season tonight. We've asked hockey guru Martin Slamon, who keeps a pretty hilarious blog over at digidigidigi, to give a full run down on the upcoming Flyers season, which begins tonight in Calgary. Much more after the jump.

From the creators of last seasons' box office flop, "My Right Foot" starring Peter Forsberg in the title role, comes the much hyped blockbuster smash (or so we hope) "Back With A Vengeance."  The Philadelphia Flyers hope to erase the memory of their 40th anniversary season (22-48-12), the worst in franchise history, when they take on the Flames in Calgary tonight.  They'll  start "wiping the slate clean" with 8 players making their Flyers regular season debut, including free agent acquisitions Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

Flash back to the beginning of last season.  The Flyers, off to a horrible start after bowing out of the first round the previous year in an embarrassing loss to the Sabres, are faced with the firing of their head coach Ken Hitchcock (1-6-1 start), and the resignation of burnt out GM, Bobby Clarke.  Couple that with Forsberg's (their captain at the time) world-wide search for a magical right skate that would make him 100%, and you have a nightmare of a hockey season.  Phantoms coach John Stevens (2005 Calder Cup Champ), upgraded to the big club and with the help of new GM Paul Holmgren, began to see some progress towards the end of the year.  The team was really just a "soft core" version of their former self, made up of numerous call ups from the Phantoms.

Here's a break down of the Flyers roster, coupled with possible line combinations, as per Tim Panaccio  of the Philadelphia Inquirer:  The top line will consist of Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne on the wings of (love) new center Danny Briere.  You may know him from such commercials as "Hey, watch me hit that window pane to the left of the one I just hit."  He was one of the big three center free agents available in the offseason, with the Rangers acquiring the other two in Gomez (Devils) and Drury (Sabres).  Look for Briere to pick up where sir Peter left off, only without the whole play two games, sit out three games scenario.

The Flyers have what equates to two 2nd lines, with Mike Richards centering Joffrey Lupol and Denis Tolpeko... and Jeff Carter centering Scot Hartnel and Sami Kapanen.  I say this, because both Carter and Richards have been mediocre in their first two seasons, showing flashes of brilliance only in less frequent spurts than moments of futility.  Richards was rumored to have the best camp out of all Flyers forwards and was rewarded with an A on his sweater.  His willingness to scrap is admirable and he does a lot of the little things right on the ice, but the Flyers need a viable 2nd line center to provide scoring depth.  Carter is a complete mystery (so far) and a player who has all the right tools but hasn't implemented them.

Jim Dowd (former Devil) is paired on a bruising fourth line, with Jesse Boulerice and Ben Eager.  Dowd is a smart veteran center who brings some legitimacy to a line that would much rather beat your face in than play hockey.  Eager led the Fly-guys in penalty minutes last year, but he isn't big enough and has too much skill to be labeled a sure fire "heavy-weight."  Boulerice is also rather diminutive when compared to the top echelon of fighters in the league, but he's had an impressive camp and a number of eye opening (or gash opening) fights, including his two-time defeat of Devil's Cam Janssen.

On defense, Braydon Coburn, who came in a trade with Nashville for Peter Forsberg is paired with big n' slow Derrian Hatcher and starts his first full season as a pro.  Impressive youngster Lasse Kukkonen and Randy Jones worked well together in the pre-season.  Jason Smith, long time captain of the Edomonton Oilers, is now our 16th captain, after securing the job late last Saturday in a loss to the Rangers.  He dished out several punishing checks and fought twice in the game, carving a place in the hearts of true Flyers fans.  His partner, Timmonen is the puck carrying defenseman the flyers always wanted Joni Pitkanen to be.  The 7th alternate d-man is Nate Guenin, a suprise to make the club who looked strong in camp and edged out the hard hitting Denis Gauthier.  Look for the retirement of other creaky defenseman, Mike Rathje... one of the last physical leftovers from Clarke's grand vision of the new NHL.

Marty Biron, long time Sabres back up and pal of Briere, gets his chance to prove he deserves the number one goaltender position on the Flyers.  Silent Bob Esche is gone and Nittymaki looks to rebound after his labrum injuries of last season.  Former Flyer Brian (Bobby) Boucher is back, but as a starting goalie for the Craig Berube led Philadelphia Phantoms.  As far as predictions go, I nor anyone else in their right mind knows what the Flyers will do this season.  Injuries, all the new faces, and the possible return of Peter the Great make the future pretty uncertain.  I will go out on a limb and say they make the playoffs as a lower seed (5-8) and are ousted in the 2nd round.  But don't take my word for it.

Tidbits: Injuries are once again the story this year, with four of them occuring on or around the controversial "Downie Killed McCammond" game.  Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall (out 3-4 weeks) both sustained wrist injuries, but Lupul hopes to play tonight.  R.J. Umberger broke a pinky finger after a really strong preseason, but he hopes to join the club as soon as the Vancouver game.  Randy Jones had a hip flexor but is slated to start and Timmonen had a scary collision in practice with goalie Antero Nittymaki, but both are fine.  Speaking of Downie, the Flyers appear to have "buried" him and the story on the Phantoms after the announcement of the 20 game suspension.  What's worse is that the AHL commisioner suspended Downie for a month after reviewing the hit.  Downie could possibly make his AHL debut on Nov. 3, but still has to serve the NHL suspension before playing pro.

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available, but Sproles is due to earn $3.5 million in base salary in 2016. Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).