Time To Put The NL East "Playoff Race" To Bed

Time To Put The NL East "Playoff Race" To Bed

It's probably fair to say this September hasn't been as exciting as the past few, or the very least, not nearly as dramatic.  Sure, there have been swoons, injuries, hitting droughts, bullpen issues, and plenty of interesting discussions about the potential makeup of the playoff roster.  That's kind of the point though.  We've been talking about the Phillies playoff roster, particularly the pitching staff, since July.  There really hasn't been any doubt all summer about who was going to win the division.

Now it's time to make it official.  Following their 2-1 series victory over the Braves this weekend, the Phillies look to continue pushing the race out of reach in tonight's double header versus the Marlins.  That's if it isn't out of reach already.

For starters, the Fish haven't beaten the Phillies at home once this year in six tries.  The good guys have scored a total of 41 runs at Land Shark Stadium while allowing a meager 14.  It's not surprising there isn't much of a home field advantage in all those vacant seats, but the numbers are staggering.  Clearly this is a very comfortable setting for the Fightins.

They are going against Josh Johnson in game one, who has had a fantastic season, sporting a 15-4 record with a 3.01 ERA.  In two '09 starts against the Phils, he is 1-0 with one earned run allowed in 13 innings of work and 14 strikeouts.  As always he'll be tough to solve.  He's 4-1 with a 3.38 ERA in his career versus the Fightins.

Joe Blanton takes the mound, and he looks to continue a stellar season of his own.  He rebounded from a poor outing in Washington on Septmber 10 (first time he had allowed more than 3 ER since June 18) to throw six shutout innings and pick up the win against the same Nats six days later.  His jump in performance this year is a good sign as the Phils look to repeat.

Game one starts at 4:10.  Time to put things away.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Sixers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Sixers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 

On Tuesday, Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato takes a look at the state of the Sixers

How did we get here?
By now, you all know about “The Process.” The Sixers last competitive season was five years ago when they reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2012. They began dismantling that group, and the following year, went 34-48 under Doug Collins. 

The Sixers then entered a three-year period of dismal basketball with a revolving door of players coached by Brett Brown that culminated in a 47-199 record. During that time, they stockpiled injured players, draft-and-stash prospects and a handful of future picks through transactions made by then-general manager Sam Hinkie.

Hinkie stepped down from his role with a memorable 13-page resignation letter last April. The Sixers hired Bryan Colangelo as president of basketball operations, marking a new chapter in the organization. 

The 2016-17 season was the first glimpse into the potential of “The Process.” They finished 28-54, including a 10-5 month of January. Joel Embiid made his NBA debut after two years. While he was limited to 31 games because of (another) injury, he quickly proved he can dominate when healthy. Dario Saric came to the NBA two years after being drafted in 2014 and emerged as a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate after Embiid was shut down for the season. The Sixers landed the number one pick in the 2016 draft and are waiting on the debut of Ben Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in training camp. This season, the Sixers established legitimate pieces for their future, rather than players who could be on the summer league team. 

Are the Sixers on the right path back to prosperity?
The Sixers are on the right path back to prosperity, and it starts this offseason. They have the third pick in the 2017 draft, with the possibilities of adding another young talent or packaging the pick to land a more established player. The Sixers have flexibility with plenty of cap space — which they could use to acquire a key free agent. The team has maintained they will not rush into making a trade just for the sake of it  — Jahlil Okafor’s future with the Sixers is still uncertain — or spending money just because it’s available. The Sixers showed flashes of potential last season. If they gather the right pieces this summer and — a big “and” — they stay healthy, the Sixers will continue to move toward an upward trend of rebuilding with the longer-term goals (this isn't happening overnight) of becoming a contender again. 

Coming Wednesday: A look at the Phillies' rebuild

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls hopes versatility leads to NHL contract

WINDSOR, Ontario — Flyers prospect Sam Dove-McFalls is hoping a move back to wing will make him a more versatile player as he looks to make the jump to pro hockey next season.

Dove-McFalls, a natural center, has spent parts of his fourth season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playing wing because of injuries among the Sea Dogs' forward group.

The 20-year-old is hoping his versatility will help earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers and a spot in Lehigh Valley.

"It can only be beneficial for me to play both positions, it'll help me be more versatile for when I get to the next level," Dove-McFalls said Monday at the Memorial Cup to CSNPhilly.com. "Some guys play one position their whole career, they have to play there, otherwise they're not able to play their game, so I think it's only good for me that I spent some time playing the wing this year."

A knee injury limited the 6-foot-1, 202-pound forward to just 29 games last season. Even when he did return to the Saint John lineup, Dove-McFalls admitted he wasn't 100 percent.

However, after a full summer of training, the Montreal native felt better than ever entering the 2016-17 season.

"I did a lot of power skating, I felt my skating was better and I felt a lot more confident out there," he said. "Last year, I was getting a little frustrated and stuff.

"[I] got more explosive and I think I move around the ice a lot better."

The work put in during the summer paid off as Dove-McFalls set new career highs for goals (17) and points (53) in 66 games with the Sea Dogs this season. He added five goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

One of Dove-McFalls' goals for this season was to earn his entry-level contract from the Flyers. He has until June 1 to do so before the Flyers lose his exclusive rights, according to CapFriendly.com. Drafted in the fourth round (98th overall) in 2015, Dove-McFalls could make the jump to the Phantoms next season if signed.

"Obviously, you do [think about it], but you have to play for the team," Dove-McFalls said. "I don't control what they do and what decision they make. All I can do is try to play my best.

"When the team does well, then everyone does well. Hopefully, that's going to happen, that's the plan."

Dove-McFalls is in constant communication with Flyers player development coach John Riley, and the two don't always talk just hockey.

"[He] just sends me articles about pro athletes and what the pro life is all about," Dove-McFalls said. "Not necessarily always just hockey — stuff that's off the ice too. When he does come and watch me play, he focuses more on the hockey part.

"[The articles] show how hard it is to be a pro and how dedicated you have to be to the game. Articles on Tom Brady or Kobe Bryant — those greats who are dedicated to their game."

Dove-McFalls continued a trend for Flyers prospects this spring becoming the fourth straight to win a President Trophy as QMJHL champions, joining Philippe Myers (Rouyn-Noranda, 2016), Sam Morin (Rimouski, 2015) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Val-d'Or, 2014).

Described as a big two-way forward who can kill penalties and contribute offensively, Dove-McFalls points to current Flyer Sean Couturier and Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal as NHLers he tries to model his game after.

In order to make that jump to the pro game, Saint John coach Danny Flynn thinks Dove-McFalls needs to continue improving on his skating.

"He has to continue to work on foot speed, he has to continue to play a solid two-way game, but he has a good feel for how he's got to play," Flynn said. "If I were to be critical, because all young kids need development from our best player to our weakest player, foot speed would be an area that he'd like to improve on."

Seeing youngsters such as Travis Konecny and defenseman Ivan Provorov make the jump to the NHL has Dove-McFalls excited for the future.

"It's interesting," he said. "Obviously, they had nine or 10 guys at the world juniors this year and then you have Konecny and Provorov who were already on the team, so that's exciting. We have a lot of good young prospects.

"I think the organization is moving in the right direction. I'm not really looking too far ahead, I realize I'm still a long ways away, but it's good they're going in the right direction stockpiling prospects."