This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

This Is Not a Freefall. There Is No Need for Alarm.

Five straight losses. Going from second the conference to on the brink of being on the outside looking in. Being compared negatively to the Sixers. Another concussion. Costly turnovers by should-be-Phantoms. No skate that fits. No clear-cut number 1 in net. Again.

All these elements have many Flyers fans digging through closets for baseball gloves and fastidiously reading reports on pitchers and catchers in Clearwater. In Philly, we know all to well how to rush the season, talkin' Mel Kiper Jr, fifth outfielders, and ping pong balls. But it's nowhere near time to write off this Flyers team. I'm not saying don't go out and have a 37º catch in the yard. By all means... Just don't get off the Orange & Black bandwagon before the homestretch.

True I may not have seen the worst of these recent Flyers games. Someone had to look pale and out of shape by a pool in Arizona while all ya'll chipped ice off your windshields and played bumper cars on 76 and the Blue Route. But I have a theory about these recent losses: They're a good thing...


Virtually every great season sees a time of failure and futility—a slump. Slumps are inevitable over a several-month season, whether you're talking 162+playoffs on the diamond, 16+ on the gridiron, 80+ on the hardwood, or 82+ on the ice. Pretty much every decent-to-great team has that reality check, look-in-the mirror, cold-shower leg-sweep. But as long as two very important things are part of the equation, there's no need for alarm.

These two elements are fairly simple in theory: (1) the team must learn about its weaknesses and make adjustments to correct them; and (2) the timing must be good. The first is easy enough to understand, but undoubtedly harder to implement. The ability to make these improvements is what separates Theo Epstein from Ed Wade, Bill Walsh from Andy Reid. The timing thing is more tricky, and has a lot more to do with luck than anything else. But its importance can't be discounted. Ask the Patriots if they'd have liked to lose their only game of the season on a Sunday afternoon in week 8 or intermittently between multimillion dollar commercials. The timing of a slump is everything. Too early, and you may slump again later, peaking too early. Too late, and it can spoil the playoff run. But timed just right, it can be one of the keys to going deep into the postseason.

So how does Goldilocks feel about this pile of porridge the Flyers are in? It might be just right. For starters, it's before the trade deadline. Adjustments can still be made, and the rumors have been flying about puck-moving defensemen, and of course, Peter Forsberg, although the latter seems less likely with every passing day. Paul Holmgren has made some great adjustments since taking over, so we can be confident in his ability, but will he be able to part with any of the pieces he so recently brought in? Time will tell, but I'd bet on him.

One rumor had Scottie "Menage" Upshall being tradebait, but his lingering lower-ex ailments could hurt his return value more than his playing time. Also, if there's one thing about this year's batch of trade rumors, it's that they definitively lack substance. First Rob Blake is a target, then he's not willing to play in the East. Tomas Kaberle. Dan Boyle. Your dad. The reason we haven't covered the trade scenarios is that there's just no reason to. Most of them have no possibility of happening, although there's a good chance something will.

Finally, as I wrap this up, and not a moment too soon, it's important to remember who this team is. One year removed from finishing dead fucking last in the league, the worst season in franchise history, a GM in his first full season has made a very complicated cocktail of leadership and potential, and many of the faces on the roster weren't even here last season. It's entirely unreasonable to expect them to hold on to first place in the division all year, or even to finish there. Also, have you seen the NHL playoffs? Seeding doesn't matter much, and you can get the same shitty match-up with the Devils whether you're the 3 playing the 6 or the 7 playing the 2.

There's a great chance that the playoff inclusion and seeding will continue to shuffle for the duration of the season. Over the past several months, most teams have traded spots multiple times, and we've seen nothing to indicate that the trend won't continue on into that first week of April. Don't get me wrong, I'll be pissed if the Pens win this division. But it's not the end of the run if they or the Devils or even the Rangers (ha!) do.

So even if the Flyers drop 2 of 3 against Montreal and Ottawa, let's not get too hasty to call it a season. They're still the same team that played with an air of dominance for long stretches this season, but they're also still getting to know exactly who they are and what they've got.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO – The Phillies got a nice start from Jerad Eickhoff, mostly good bullpen work and plenty of timely hitting in posting a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in interleague play Wednesday night.
 
The Phils had been outscored 18-1 in losing their previous two games to the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
 
The Phillies are 59-68. They are four wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff (9-12) pitched six innings of two-run ball and left with a 4-2 lead after throwing just 71 pitches. Eickhoff scattered four hits, walked nine and struck out two. The sixth inning has been a problem for him this season. He has allowed 26 earned runs over 19 innings for a 12.32 ERA in the frame. Eickhoff did hold it together and limited the damage to two runs in the sixth before handing off to the bullpen.
 
Eickhoff’s ERA in the first five innings of a game this season is 2.64.
 
White Sox right-hander James Shields gave up four runs over six innings. He is 5-16 with a 5.98 ERA.
 
Bullpen report
The trio of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out for the Phillies.
 
Gomez survived a run in the ninth for his 34th save.
 
Ramos and Neris both pitched a scoreless inning.

Since the All-Star break, Neris has pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two walks while striking out 26.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph had a nice game with a double, his 17th homer and two runs scored. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Dioner Navarro smacked a two-run homer off Eickhoff in the sixth.
 
Trade talk
There’s interest in Carlos Ruiz (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night – LHP Adam Morgan (1-7, 6.21) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (11-7, 3.36)
 
Saturday night – RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-7, 3.60) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (11-7, 2.61)
 
Sunday afternoon – RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00).

Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

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USA Today Images

Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rookies Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers scored to help the Union beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Rosenberry gave the Union (10-9-7) a 2-1 lead in the 74th minute. Tranquillo Barnetta one-timed a feed to Rosenberry who trapped it with his right foot and blasted a left-footer through a pair of defenders and past goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Herbers, making his fifth start of the season, opened the scoring in the 60th. Chris Pontius tapped it to Herbers who, from the top of the box, had a shot blocked by Hector Jimenez before side-netting the rebound. Both of his two career goals have come against Columbus (4-9-11).

Adam Jahn tied it in the 73rd minute. Tony Tchani's header, off the corner by Federico Higuain, was deflected off the crossbar by goalkeeper Andre Blake and -- after a failed clearance by the Union -- Jahn tapped it in from close range.

It was the Union's third consecutive home win.

Columbus has one win in its last 11 matches.

Source: Phillies have gotten trade 'nibbles' on Carlos Ruiz

Source: Phillies have gotten trade 'nibbles' on Carlos Ruiz

CHICAGO — Another trade deadline arrives next Wednesday.

Could a Phillies veteran such as Ryan Howard or Carlos Ruiz, the lone holdovers from the 2008 World Series championship team, be on the move?

ESPN reports that both players have cleared waivers, which would make them eligible to be dealt. Players traded after Aug. 1 must first clear waivers. They have to be on a new team’s roster by Sept. 1 to gain postseason eligibility. Players traded after Sept. 1 are not eligible for the postseason.

Howard has been available for a trade for a couple of seasons, but there has been no interest. Even now, with him hitting .339 with seven homers, 16 RBIs and a .742 slugging percentage since the All-Star break (entering Wednesday), there remains little interest, according to sources. Howard is still owed about $16 million in the form of salary and a $10 million contract buyout for 2017, but that would not be an impediment to a deal as the Phils would eat that. Still, it’s unlikely he will be traded because most of the American League contenders are set at designated hitter, which would be his optimal role.

So, Howard, 36, is likely to play out the final year of his contract with the Phils, take his well-earned bows and exit either to retirement or a new team next season. He says he wants to keep playing.

Ruiz, 37, is also in the final year of his contract. Like Howard, he has swung the bat well recently, hitting .298 with a .433 on-base percentage in his last 26 games. He’s a backup catcher at this stage of his career, but that could appeal to a team like Cleveland or Boston, contenders who could be in the market for catching depth.

A baseball source said the Phillies have received some recent “nibbles” on Ruiz. It’s unclear if a deal will reach the finish line.

As players with 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Howard and Ruiz both have the power to block a trade. It’s doubtful that either would because both have stated that their goal is to play in the postseason again.

“I’m still happy here,” Ruiz said. “We’ll see what happens. If that happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm going to play.”

Howard has taken the same attitude.

“Those are situations where I guess you’ve got to see what presents itself,” he said. “You know me. The last 12 years I’ve just been focused on playing ball. If it presents itself, it presents itself. You handle that situation. Otherwise, I just try to stay in the moment, stay in the now and prepare for the game.”