Road to the Winter Classic: Flyers in Tampa

Road to the Winter Classic: Flyers in Tampa

Yesterday, Enrico and I sat in on a conference call with Chris Pronger as part of the media prelude to the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Pronger was affable and responsive, but also pretty honest about the fact that he doesn't know what exactly this team needs to do to get out of their funk. If he knew that, he said, he'd have told everyone already. 

When the league's deepest scoring team from last season suddenly can't find the back of the net for weeks, it's much more difficult to pinpoint the problem than it is when they're just getting shelled, which on most nights, they're not. Pronger did echo the sentiments aired by Peter Laviolette recently—that the team just needs to find a way to have fun, probably not meaning in a goofing around sense, but rather to not press so much and overthink their shortcomings.  

What better stage for having some fun than playing an outdoor game, and on the field at Fenway Park at that? Pronger did say he thinks that setting and excitement could be just what they need, but he quickly pointed out that they need to start winning during the four games they have leading up to that, a road trip that starts tonight in Tampa. He's right too—they can't afford to keep losing or wait 'til the new year to get a fresh start. Take a look at this tidbit, tweeted by Ryan Bright earlier today:

 

At just six points below the mark of the current 8th seed, it may not take 30-16-1 to get in this season—but if Lavvy has a cardboard stripper in the locker room right now, she'd better be wearing 30 tear-off patches, if not more. 

Michael Leighton will get the start in net for the Flyers, which doesn't exactly fill our hockey pants with confidence. Leighton wasn't quite good enough to stick with the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently have the highest goals against average in the NHL (the Flyers are 10th, which is pretty lousy as well). Can he steal a win tonight, or at the very least keep it close enough for the Flyers to eek one out? More than Leighton's own play, it'll depend on what the skaters in front of him can do. If they get shutout or light the lamp just once or twice, Leighton won't be the reason they lose, even if he gets torched. Boosh should be able to return after the short Christmas break, and Johan Backlund has been called up (or down, geographically speaking) to make sure the door on the bench stays shut during play. Darroll Powe will come off the injury list tonight, while Riley Cote and Mike Pyorala will watch the game from the suites (which begs the question—if you're a healthy scratch, can you have a few beers up in the box?).  

Just like the Flyers, the Lightning are staring through the glass at the Eastern Conference's playoff teams, but they're closer to breaking through, which is a huge sign of just how awful the Orange & Black have been lately. The Lightning aren't a good team, and their building smells like human waste because of it. Or maybe it's the sewage leak. Or the Flyers. 

Who can be sure? 

Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

TORONTO -- Hyun Soo Kim hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Roberto Osuna, and the Baltimore Orioles beat Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday night to move within one game of the AL wild card-leading Blue Jays.

With Toronto ahead 2-1, Jonathan Schoop singled with one out, pinch-runner Michael Bourn stole second and Kim homered on a 3-2 pitch into the visiting bullpen in right, causing the Orioles relievers to jump in celebration.

Osuna (3-3) has five blown save chances, including two in his last three appearances.

Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 46th home run, a solo drive off Jason Grilli in the eighth.

Brian Duensing (1-0) got one out, and Zach Britton finished for his 47th save in as many tries (see full recap).

Mets win to keep grip on wild-card spot
MIAMI -- The Marlins walked half a block alongside a hearse carrying their ace away from Marlins Park at the start of a funeral motorcade Wednesday, and then peeled away with watery eyes to go back inside and play a game.

Drained by four days of grieving, they didn't have much left for the New York Mets.

Jay Bruce hit his 32nd home run, James Loney also homered and the Mets helped their NL wild-card chances by beating Miami 5-2.

New York began the night leading the Giants by half a game and the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games in the race for the two wild-card spots. The Mets conclude the regular season with three games at Philadelphia starting Friday.

The Marlins' loss in their home finale eliminated them from playoff contention. Despite high hopes this year, they still haven't been to the postseason since 2003.

Set Lugo (5-2) went 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs.

Jose Urena (4-9) allowed five runs in five innings (see full recap).

Cano's HR boosts Mariners' playoff hopes
HOUSTON -- Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Houston Astros 12-4 Wednesday to keep pressure on the other AL wild-card contenders.

Kyle Seager added another three-run drive in the eighth, his 30th home run this season, as Seattle pulled within 1 games of Baltimore for the second AL wild card. Houston dropped three games back as its magic number for elimination was cut to two. The Orioles were at Toronto on Wednesday night.

Cano's career-best 36th home run, a drive off Doug Fister (12-13), landed in the first row of the Crawford Boxes in left field. Cano has nine homers and 25 RBIs in 19 games against Houston this season (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Braves 12, Phillies 2

ap-phillies-adam-morgan-face.jpg
The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Braves 12, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – The Phillies continued to stumble toward the season’s finish line on Wednesday night. They were hammered, 12-2, by the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

Adam Morgan was bruised for 10 hits and nine runs in five innings.

The Phils have lost five of their last six games. They have given up 63 runs over that span.

The Phils have lost six straight to the Braves and are 16-35 in their last 51 games against the NL East.

With four games to play, the Phils are 70-88.

Starting pitching report
Morgan was hit hard early but had to give the Phils some innings as the bullpen has carried a heavy load lately. He finished the season 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA in 23 games, 21 of which were starts.

Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz picked up the win. He gave up just one run over five innings.

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have scored 599 runs this season. They are the only team in the majors not to reach 600.

The Braves had 13 hits, including six for extra bases. They were 5 for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Matt Kemp doubled and homered for the Braves.

Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 30 games. He has reached base safely in 46 straight games, tying Washington’s Jayson Werth for most this season.

ICYMI
Like Pete Mackanin, GM Matt Klentak sees a need for offense, but he remains committed to the team’s rebuild (see story).

Health check
Roman Quinn is likely done for the season. Aaron Nola is throwing in Florida (see story).

Up next
The series concludes on Thursday night. Jeremy Hellickson (12-10, 3.78) will make his final start of the season (and likely his final with the Phillies) against Atlanta right-hander Josh Collmenter (3-0, 4.19).

It will be the Phillies’ final appearance in Turner Field. The Braves move into a new park next season.

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