Cot for Choice, Cotdammit! Phils Win Again, Ruiz Top Hitter in MLB; Utley Homers in Final Tune-Up

Cot for Choice, Cotdammit! Phils Win Again, Ruiz Top Hitter in MLB; Utley Homers in Final Tune-Up

So, we're now a mere five days from July, well on our way to the All-Star Break, and Carlos Ruiz is batting .361, good for the best average in either league. Overshadowing for the moment the greatness of this increasing sample size, Chooch gave the Phillies the cushion they'd eventually need to beat the Pirates, 5-4, with a home run to lead off the eighth inning on Tuesday night. It was a new career-best 10th long ball on the season.
Ruiz also knocked in the game's first run, a single that scored Hunter Pence in the first inning, and scored on a two-run Ty Wigginton homer after singling in the third. Back-to-back three-hit games. BEAST. And yet THIRD in All-Star voting for catcher?
In a season during which most other Phillies don't deserve the cardboard punch-out or 25-at-a-time votes online, Chooch deserves every vote we have (note: that's actually infinity votes). Maybe the reason he's so far behind (2,448,942) Buster Posey (3,335,982) and Yadier Molina (3,119,530) is because none of his teammates are pushing the full-team ballot this year, but that makes him even more worthy. 
With Chase Utley and Ryan Howard playing a combined zero games to date (soon to change!), Ruiz has stpped up to have his best-ever season so far. Cot 4 Choice... Right guys?

Game NotesPlacido Polanco had his third straight multi-hit game, bringing his average up to .282. Wigginton had a single in addition to his homer. Hunter Pence tripled in the first and scored on a Chooch single. 
Vance Worley threw only six full innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks against five K's. Worley was relieved in the seventh after allowing a walk, a single, and a chip RBI double.
Michael Schwimer and Antonio Bastardo continued the modest positive trend from the bullpen, each turning in a scoreless inning. Schwimer entered a volatile situation and diffused it with a pair of outs that included a close play at the plate that miiiight have given a should-be All-Star the benefit of the tag at the plate. Bastardo allowed a double, but the Bucs let him off the hook with a failed bunt (caught near the backstop by Chooch), a fly out, and a K. 
As the CBP faithful shuffled to the best seats to watch the fireworks display, Jonathan Papelbon stopped everyone in their tracks with a long, one-out homer to Mike McHenry. He didn't let it get to him though, inducing a fly out and a strike out to take his 18th save in 19 opportunities. 
Utley WatchChase Utley went 2-5 with a home run in his final tuneup at Lehigh Valley. Uts also made a nice play at second, looking sharp. He'll suit up for the Fightins on Wednesday… 
Up NextThe Phils have announced their spot starter for tomorrow's game—Raul Valdes will face righty James McDonald. 

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake the Union's first MLS Best XI team member since 2010

Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.

A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.

The rest of the team included:

• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)

Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.

But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.

Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.

Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.

“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

Steve Mason named NHL's 1st star after strong week

There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
 
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
 
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
 
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
 
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple. 
 
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
 
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston. 
 
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
 
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
 
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
 
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
 
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins  come to mind.
 
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out  shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.” 
 
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record. 
 
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
 
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
 
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”