Four Straight Heading into the All-Star Break: Is Your Confidence Up?

Four Straight Heading into the All-Star Break: Is Your Confidence Up?

The Phillies play over the last four games was far from perfect. We saw the bullpen falter and the bats fail to really light it up, but as Jayson Werth says below, the hitting was certainly timely, and the outcome of the final four games before the All-Star break ended with four more notches in the win column.

Charlie and the boys seem pretty juiced up about the four game sweep heading into a nice little break for the majority of the players. They're not happy to be trailing the Braves and Mets in the division, but the sweep of the Reds appears to have given them a confidence boost to the point where they feel poised to get hot in the second half.

The team is feeling pretty good, but how about the fan base? It was less than a week ago when these same guys were talking about a lack of "swagger" after tough defeats. Three straight walkoff victories at home should certainly add a little hop to their step, but will it solve some of the bigger, long term issues? The starting pitching, for the most part, has been pretty good as of late, but I'm pretty sure the percentage of people who are confident in the Phillies bullpen, especially the closer, is a very low number. Swagger is not going to turn Danys Baez into a reliable reliever. Swagger is not going to turn back the clock on Brad Lidge to 2008. Swagger isn't going to turn Juan Castro into Chase Utley.

But, you know, swagger helps.

With the team off until Thursday, we'll have plenty of time to sit back and look at where this team stands. Did this four game sweep help you feel a little bit better about the Phillies chances in the second half? Or do you believe this team is too flawed to make a run? What, if anything, would you do if you were Ruben Amaro Jr. come trade deadline?

If nothing else, the last four games reminded us just how fun this team can be when they refuse to give up. I, for one, am glad there's plenty of baseball to be played this summer.

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Flyers-Coyotes 5 things: Decent chance for first winning streak

Flyers vs. Coyotes
7 p.m. on CSN
Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers (3-3-1) on Thursday night have an optimal opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time this season when they host the nosediving Coyotes (1-5-0) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you ready for the game with five things to know.

1. Nothin' but a G thang
For any of those worried about Claude Giroux, don’t be.

For one, Giroux may be the only player that would receive more flack for not having scored a goal yet than be applauded for leading the NHL in assists (eight).

Secondly, you may recall 2013-14 when the Flyers’ captain started the season goalless through 15 games, with just seven assists and a minus-11 rating. Giroux finished that season with a career-high-tying 28 goals and the league’s third-most points at 86.

More so than the puck being put in the net, the Flyers needed greater playmaking after last season. Giroux is providing that — as is Jakub Voracek — and, as a result, the goals are coming for the Flyers, at both even strength and on the power play. 

2. Stick with the switches?
Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol made a few changes before the team’s 4-3, come-from-behind win over the Sabres on Tuesday.

Veteran defenseman Nick Schultz was healthy-scratched to make room for blueliner Radko Gudas, returning from a six-game suspension to the start the season. Gudas finished with seven shot attempts and three hits in 18:27.

“Overall, what you want to see is go out and play an efficient game,” Hakstol said. “For the most part, I thought [Gudas] went out and did that.”

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who has had bad moments, stayed in the lineup for his versatility.

“He is just a guy that is reliable, who moves the puck well,” Hakstol said, “and we feel he can play in any situation whether it is OT or regulation.”

A greater change came to the team’s top line. Flyers leading goal scorer Matt Read leapfrogged to the first line from the third as Brayden Schenn dropped to Read’s previous spot. Without a point in his first three games, Schenn recorded a goal and an assist as he finds his rhythm returning from a three-game ban.

“The timing and pace of his game [are starting] to get back to where it needs to be,” Hakstol said. 

3. Oh, 'Yotes
Once they beat the visiting Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in their season opener, the Coyotes hit the road for what has turned out to be a nightmarish six-game trip.

Since the victory over the orange and black, Arizona has lost five straight by a combined score of 23-13, a losing skid that started with the team’s No. 1 goalie Mike Smith being knocked out with a lower-body injury. As a result, the Coyotes are permitting an NHL-most 4.33 markers per game and own the league’s worst goal differential at minus-9.

Backup netminder Louis Domingue, who will start against the Flyers, has struggled mightily in place of Smith, going 0-4-0 in four games with a 5.03 goals-against average and .851 save percentage.

Through seven games, the Flyers have just one goal in the first period. They should jump on Arizona, which has yielded eight tallies in the opening stanza, tied for most in hockey.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Center Sean Couturier has been a bit quiet over his last four games with just one assist for one point after scoring three goals in his first three games. He’ll get going again playing alongside Travis Konecny and Voracek, a duo that has combined for 14 points.

Coyotes: Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is coming off a two-goal output last time out to give him four goals on the season. He plays a ton (26:17 TOI, tied for fourth highest in the NHL) and is a career plus-7 against the Flyers with four goals and an assist.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 5-9-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .899 save percentage in 15 career games against the Coyotes.

• Arizona goalie Domingue has faced the Flyers just once, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a loss last season.

• Konecny has six points (one goal, five assists), tied for third among NHL rookies.

• The Flyers own the league’s fifth-best power play at 26.9 percent.

• The Flyers will welcome back 14 members of their Hall of Fame — along with family of six other members — for Flyers Heritage Night, featuring a pregame ceremony.

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured

Embiid Liives: Sixers lose opener but Process secured


852 days after Joel Embiid was drafted -- a number becoming as familiar to Sixer fans as any Cubs fan could tell you how many years it's been since their last World Series -- he actually played in a regular season game for the Philadelphia 76ers. He lives. He exists. He has a Basketball-Reference stat line. It looks like this: 

The feeling of triumph was tangible at the not-Wells Fargo Center well before it became clear that the Sixers might actually have a shot at beating the Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Embiid's every move was treated with breathless anticipation and rapturous cheering, as well it should have been. Even Dario Saric got his name chanted at him in the first quarter, during his very first regular-season trip to the free-throw line. It was less a basketball game than a Bar Mitzvah, celebrating that these two guys we'd waited a combined four years for were at last becoming full-grown Sixers before our very eyes. It couldn't have mattered much less whether or not we won the game. 

That said, hey, we almost won the game! The Sixers led most of the way, including by six fairly deep into the fourth quarter. If not for the Internet-pandering greatness of Russell Westbrook -- 32-12-9 on good shooting, including a handful of tough pull-ups to make the difference late -- the Sixers might've won their first home opener since Process Genesis three years ago. It didn't happen, and a couple highly flustered 76ers possessions late in this one would probably make this loss pretty frustrating if it happened in February, which it probably still will. Last night? W/e. Let's watch those Embiid highlights again. 

And oh, were they high. It was a night that I imagine will soon become typical for our Jojo: He didn't have a great game, and he was still amazing. 6-16 from the floor with four turnovers and 0 assists is hardly the most efficient night Joel will have for us; a couple times he tried to do way too much in the half-court, and it would've been embarrassing if how much fun he was having even in his screw-ups wasn't so inspiring. He didn't know what spots to run to in transition, he was a non-factor on the boards late, and he probably needs to cool it with his coast-to-coast experiments for a little bit. (Actually, what am I saying? Do You forever, Joel, just watch for those tiny dudes sneaking into your blind spot.) 

But he did get to the line for eight FTs (including two on a rip-through move that most ten-year pros can't successfully execute) and made seven of 'em, he did grab nearly every rebound in sight in the first quarter (even though he only ended with seven for the game), he did get an early swat on Russ (and deterred countless other shots), and yes, he did hit his first-ever three-pointer (and even sent the not-WFC crowd into a frenzy with a couple he missed). Even on an off night, where Thunder big men Enes Kanter and Steven Adams — who my mother now hates — got the best of him on multiple occasions, and he radiated a total lack of NBA experience, he still scored 20 points in 22 minutes and kept us in a game we had no right being anywhere near. He is going to be DOMINANT. And soon. So soon.

Technically there were also ten other Sixers who took the court for us last night, so it's probably worth humoring a couple of their contributions as well. For all the shit that I gave him about cruising through the preseason, I thought Robert Covington was awesome last night — super-active on defense, making good decisions on offense, and hitting a couple huge three-pointers. Jerami Grant was similarly impressive, causing his typical chaos under the basket on both ends and even hitting a couple jumpers; probably shouldn't get super-used to that. And even though Gerald Henderson's night was most memorable for him bricking a three and coughing up the ball in critical late possessions, he also set the evening off with a gorgeous alley-oop slam, and played tough perimeter defense — the kind we just haven't had available to unleash on opposing point guards the last few years — on Westbrook, even if he was ultimately undone by Russ's sorcery.

Special kudos to a couple of our backcourt guys, though: In his first regular-season start for the 76ers — and his first regular-season start for any NBA team in seven seasons — Sergio Rodriguez was exactly what we needed: He attracted the Thunder trap but was able to easily navigate out of it, getting good looks and driving lanes for our perimeter guys, and he hit open shots when passed out to himself. He finished with 12 points, nine assists, and no turnovers, just what we'd hope for from our imported point guard. And Nik Stauskas packed a little extra heat for the bloggers who called for his dismissal all summer (as well as some of the fans that booed him — booed him! — last night), attacking the basket like his roster spot depended on it, finishing with an eye-catching 13 on 5-6 shooting. (I never stopped believing in you, Sauce.) (Well, maybe I sorta did, but at least I was rooting for you to make the team, if partly for selfish reasons.) 

On the other hand, it was something of a rough night for Dario Saric. He did fight for seven rebounds, and should laudable toughness on both sides of the ball, but the looks just weren't falling for Our Friend Dario last night — just 2-12, and some of the misses were brutal — and he was late on a couple rotations that led to open Thunder jumpers (Thumpers?) early. And despite showing his advanced touch early with three consecutive scores, Jahlil Okafor ran out of gas pretty quickly in this one, ending with just eight points on 4-10 shooting (with three TOs), and stood virtually no chance against the Thunder on the boards and in the pick-and-roll. Better nights to come for both. 

In the end, though, only one thing really mattered for the Sixers and the 20,000 fans — about 10,000 of them clad in Sixers jerseys, and mostly non-Iverson ones! — at the Center last night, and that's Joel Embiid, our beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy, officially becoming a player of record in the NBA. When a full stadium of Philly Phaithful chants "TRUST-THE-PRO-CESS!" while JoJo cackles from the free-throw line line, it means Our Once and Always Dark Lord's work is finally done. Hinkie died for our sins. Embiid is risen. 

Look at how much fun this season is already, with Simmons still in street clothes and Nerlens still Netflix-binging in Alabama with his phone in the other room. What's left to trust, anyway?