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What Did We Learn From Vince Velasquez’s First Start?

BWanksCB - April 9, 2019

The big story from last night is that Rhys Hoskins hit two more clutch homers, leading the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the Nationals.

That makes it back-to-back one-run wins in low scoring contests for the Phils, and while I’m sure everyone would love to see the bats crank at the pace they did over the season’s first six games, it’s encouraging to learn this team can also win on nights when the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders. Oh, and don’t forget about Bryce Harper’s socks. Also important. Also fire:

Of course, the Phillies were able to overcome a sluggish offensive effort in the early innings because starting pitcher Vince Velasquez, making his first start of the season, kept the game close. Velasquez intrigues me. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised we’re doing this experiment again. After a bumpy close to the 2018 season in which he posted a disastrous 5.68 ERA and 1.529 WHIP, I figured the organization would go a different direction and try to bring some stability to the back end of the team’s rotation. Instead, Phillies’ decision-makers elected to gamble on a fourth season of Velasquez’s live arm that has never consistently met the great expectations it warrants, while using options like Enyel De Los Santos and Jerad Eickhoff as insurance policies. Last night, we got our first extended look of the season at him, and, like usual, the results were a bit mixed, with many shades of gray.

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More Purpose and More Energy – Observations from Sixers 123, Nets 110

Kevin Kinkead - March 29, 2019

For the 5th time this season, the Sixers followed up a two-game losing streak with a win.

In other words, they have not lost three in a row this year.

Nice bounce-back last night after disappointing performances in Orlando and Atlanta. The Sixers came out with much more purpose and much more energy, jumped out to a big lead, and never really allowed Brooklyn to get too close for comfort. Additionally, they knocked the Nets out of the 6th seed and helped position themselves for a better first round playoff matchup. It was a victory both on and off the floor.

That should pretty much do it for Brooklyn as a possible six seed, since they play their next three games against Milwaukee, Indy, and Boston. Imagine that. Imagine finishing up a ridiculous seven-game road trip (how is that even allowed by the scheduling people?) and having to play three of the top five Eastern Conference squads at home. And they gotta play the Bucks on the road, too.

You should be hoping for a Pistons or Heat matchup in the 3/6 game, because those teams just give the Sixers fewer defensive issues than Brooklyn does.

Speaking of which:

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Phillies Show Scary Lineup Depth In Opening Day Win

BWanksCB - March 28, 2019

There’s nothing like a win on Opening Day. Forget the cliche ” they’re on pace for 162-0″ bullshit quip that’s typically followed by a half-hearted chuckle, it’s just nice to get out of the gate on a positive note, particularly with the quick day off tomorrow. It gives everyone a positive vibe to sit on for two days before the team takes the field again on Saturday afternoon.

As for the game itself, Aaron Nola was Aaron Nola. Just a ho-hum six innings of one-run baseball. Shrug. No big deal. Nola has reached the point where “really good” has become the norm, so let’s focus on the offense for today.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect the Phillies to plate double-digit runs on a consistent basis this season (I think?), and it remains to be seen if this lineup will prove to match the significant hype surrounding it, but it sure looks deep. That depth was on full display during the Phillies’ 10-4 Opening Day bashing of the Atlanta Braves in front of a sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park this afternoon.

Last week, I wrote about why McCutchen should thrive in the leadoff spot, specifically, pointing to his success against four-seam fastballs last season. He made good on that thesis right away against this 92 mph four-seamer from Braves starter Julio Teheran:

With the game tied in the fourth inning and a runner on third with nobody out, Teheran struck out both Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins. The inning appeared to be shaping up as a missed opportunity for the Phillies, one very similar to what we saw far too many times last season, but what then transpired was a very different result. J.T. Realmuto worked a six-pitch walk to keep the inning alive, setting up a pair of RBI singles from Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez that gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Certainly, those hits were integral in determining the game’s outcome, but before Herrera even put the ball in play, I thought to myself, “Oh, shit. Now they have to deal with him. This is nonstop.”  Ben Davis pointed it out on the broadcast, too. It’s almost like Teheran took a deep breath once he got through Harper and Hoskins, but the Phillies’ attack has a wave after wave feel about it, and it doesn’t afford a pitcher the opportunity to catch his breath. This point was illustrated again in the sixth inning when the Cesar Hernandez walked with two outs to put two men on base. In stepped Maikel Franco, the Phillies No. 8 hitter, who, you know, used to be the team’s No. 3 hitter, to break the game wide open:

Tasty.

In the seventh inning, with the bookends of the Phillies lineup already having done sufficient damage, it was the middle of the order’s turn to get involved. With first base open and nobody out, Braves manager Brian Snitker elected to walk Bryce Harper to instead face Rhys Hoskins. Snitker, as it turns out, did a bad, bad thing:

Hoskins’ 380-foot blast effectively ended the game and served as the exclamation point on the Phillies’ emphatic Opening Day statement that the feeble offense which duck-farted its way to a .237 average and 4.18 runs per game a season ago is a thing of the past. Here’s Gabe Kapler on Hoskins’ slam:

And the best part of this all? It was the guys who were part of that feeble offense a season ago that did most of the damage, driving in 9 of the team’s 10 runs. While I wouldn’t count on this type of performance every night, I also wouldn’t count on Realmuto and Harper going a combined 0 for 6, so take solace in that.

This, friends, is your 2019 Philadelphia Phillies. Let us rejoice.

Your Monday Morning Roundup

Chris Jastrzembski - March 25, 2019

The Flyers’ already slim playoff chances got even slimmer over the weekend.

After coming off a good win over the Blackhawks on Thursday, the team had back-to-back games against division rivals. But both of them were losses.

Saturday afternoon, the team suffered some questionable calls and no-calls en route to a tough 4-2 loss to the Islanders. Robert Hagg and Shayne Gostisbehere scored.

The following day, the team played the Capitals in DC, who also lead the division. Washington got up 2-0 in the first 30 minutes and eventually held on for a 3-1 win. Jake Voracek scored the lone Flyer tally.

With six games left, I honestly hope the team throws in the towel and tanks in hopes of a lower spot. They’re officially out on earning a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division. Florida is behind by two points, while Buffalo and the Rangers are nine points back of the Flyers. The latter two teams are eliminated from playoff contention.

Here’s a look at the standings:

The Flyers host Toronto on Wednesday night.

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Your Thursday Morning Roundup

Chris Jastrzembski - March 21, 2019

After beating Charlotte the previous night, the Sixers really needed to beat the Celtics last night.

Good news, they did. Thanks in part to Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler.

Boston led for the majority of the game and as much as 15 at one point, but Philadelphia came back by outscoring the Celtics 33-25 en route to a 118-115 win.

Embiid had a game-high 37 points along with 22 rebounds while Butler scored 22 points, 15 of them coming in the fourth. Marcus Smart got ejected for a cheap shot shove.

Altogether, the starting five combined for 110 out of the 118 total points. That’s good, but also not good. Mike Scott had four points, while James Ennis and Boban Marjanovic each had two points. The bench needs to step up for the playoffs very soon.

But at least the Sixers beat Boston. Thank god. With the win, they’re 2.5 games up on Indiana for 3rd and 3 games up on Boston with 11 games left to play. They’ll play the Hawks in Atlanta Saturday night.

Finally, give it to me JoJo:

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Big time win😤😤😤 #TheProcess

A post shared by Joel "The Process" Embiid (@joelembiid) on

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Here’s Why Andrew McCutchen Should Do Big Things Atop Phillies’ Lineup

BWanksCB - March 20, 2019

One of the few remaining mysteries surrounding the Phillies as the spring training schedule slogs to its conclusion is how Gabe Kapler plans to construct his Opening Day lineup. While we still don’t know exactly how it will run from top to bottom, we do know now that Andrew McCutchen will be the first Phillies hitter to step into the box against Braves starter Julio Teheran next Thursday:

This is the right call, for a few reasons:

  • McCutchen still has quality on-base skills. His .368 OBP a season ago serves as proof.
  • He still possesses the requisite pitch selection quality needed at the top. His 19.4% O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches offered at outside of the strike zone) was second-best in all of baseball and trailed only Joey Votto’s 16.4% last season. That discipline yielded 95 walks and a 13.9% walk-rate, the second-best of his career.
  • It’s not just about OBP. Hitting McCutchen ahead of offensive threats such as Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins will force pitchers to attack him. It would be very surprising if he didn’t see a lot of fastballs for this reason, and if he does, he should be extremely dangerous. McCutchen struggled with sliders (.453 OPS) and changeups (.649 OPS) last season, but mashed against four-seam fastballs (.946 OPS) and sinkers (.997 OPS). If he replicates his plate discipline and pitch production splits against hard stuff, he’s going to thrive at the top.

Hitting McCutchen first also means Cesar Hernandez is likely headed for the six or seven-hole. While the second baseman’s lack of power doesn’t traditionally play in these spots, his on-base skills outweigh his power deficiencies in this lineup. Such skills should compliment the order well in the event Kapler hits Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera, each of whom possess some thump, behind him. That particular lineup construction essentially takes the top of last year’s order and flips it to the bottom, thus making for a deep offensive attack which will force opposing pitchers to navigate multiple waves.

We’ve been doing a lot of gambling content around here in recent months, so in the spirit of that, here’s some friendly betting advice. Take the over on the team’s 4.18 runs per game and its league-worst .234 batting average of a season ago. This team is going to rake.

Will the Flyers Pursue RFAs? It Sure Sounds Like It.

Russ Joy - March 10, 2019

Restricted free agency in the NHL has stood as something of a forbidden fruit. It’s there. It’s right in front of you. You want to take a bite, but can you? Should you? The initial bite might tingle your tastebuds, but that momentary joy can turn to the bitterness of a rotten lemon in a millisecond. It’s a rarity to even broach the topic, let alone maintain possession of the fruits of one’s labor. How rare? There have been just 35 offer sheets made to restricted free agents in NHL history. In the past twenty years, only eight, yes EIGHT offer sheets have been extended to another team’s restricted free agent. It just so happens that two of those eight – a staggering 25% – have been offered by your team, your town, your Philadelphia Flyers.

Will Chuck Fletcher become the third Flyers GM in thirty-three years to make an offer to a restricted free agent? There are plenty of reasons to believe that it’s going to happen.

Reason #1: Influencers

I mentioned earlier that only two Flyers general managers have ever made an offer sheet to a restricted free agent and you’ll recognize the names: Bob Clarke and Paul Holmgren. The latter is the man who officially hired Fletcher and currently serves as the Flyers Team President. The former is a man who played a bigger role in the hiring of Chuck Fletcher than he might let on. Clarke first hired Fletcher as an Assistant GM of the Florida Panthers back in 1993. He’s spoken glowingly of Fletcher including this:

Reason #2: Bob Clarke Said As Much

When Anthony and I sat down with Bob Clarke, who now serves as Flyers Senior Vice President, for an exclusive interview for Snow The Goalie, I asked about why more teams don’t make offer sheets to restricted free agents. Then Clarke dropped this bombshell:

“You’re gonna see it with restricted free agents, just because of the salary cap. Teams get a restricted free agent coming up… they’ve got three or four million dollars in cap space, someone’s gonna come in and offer five or six, maybe overpay, but it’s gonna happen.” One could take that quote a couple of ways. Could Clarke have been talking league-wide as he referenced “teams”? Sure. But, remember, this wasn’t the question asked. Clarke’s got Fletcher’s ear. This was about as much of a pronouncement of off-season strategy as I think we’ll ever get. As for teams he could be referencing, I’ll get to that later. I wondered if Fletcher – or any GM for that matter – has been/would be hesitant to burn bridges with another member of the sacred front office fraternity:

Ultimately, he’s right. Another front office shouldn’t hold it against Fletcher professionally if he were to poach a top RFA away from a contender, but it’s easier said by a guy who by his own admission spends much of his time golfing in Florida than for someone actively working in the NHL.

Reason #3: An Exorbitant Amount of Cap Space

With a projected salary cap of roughly $83 million for the 2019-20 season, the Flyers find themselves with slightly less than $47 million committed to players against the cap. That leaves them with about $36 million in cap space, third most in the entire league behind only Ottawa and Colorado. It looks tantalizing until you take into account the fact that the Flyers have critical restricted free agents of their own to re-sign long-term including Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, and Phil Myers. The team could also choose to bring back Ryan Hartman and they’re also expected to re-sign UFA netminder Cam Talbot.

Assuming the team makes reasonable offers: Provy ($5m), Konecny ($5m), Sanheim ($4.25m), Myers ($3.25m), Hartman ($2.25m), Talbot ($3.25m), that leaves them with $13 million in potential cap space. That’s more than enough to pry away a top RFA or deliver a Shea Weber sized poison pill to a team at the top third of the conference.

Side note: Don’t look past 2020, when the team will also have to offer deals to Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom, and potentially Robert Hägg.

Reason #4: Fletcher Could Irreparably Damage An Eastern Conference Foe

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Are You Really, Truly Enjoying This Sixers Season?

Kevin Kinkead - March 7, 2019

Take a glance at the NBA standings and you’ll see a 41-24 Sixers team sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Brett Brown’s squad is 1.5 games ahead of the Celtics and plays a back-end schedule that I think is easy enough to eventually jump the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers, who still have to play at Milwaukee, Boston, Golden State, Portland, Denver, and Oklahoma City.

Indiana will eventually hit the skids and Joel Embiid will soon be back in a Sixers jersey. Things are looking up, right?

I guess.

I don’t know what it is, but this Sixers season feels exhausting to me, and I’m just a writer. Are you, the fan, really truly enjoying it? Sure, Elton Brand made a pair of blockbuster trades, two guys under the age of 25 were named All-Stars, and this team beat the Warriors in Oakland. They’re on track to begin the playoffs at home for the second straight year.

But there’s been A LOT of shit along the way, stuff like this:

  • Markelle Fultz was a debacle and had to be unloaded for peanuts.
  • There remains incessant questioning of Jimmy Butler’s fit on this team, both offensively and defensively.
  • We survived the whole “Butler challenges Brett Brown at a film session” saga.
  • The team continues to turn the ball over.
  • They blow late leads and sometimes have trouble finishing games.
  • Ben Simmons has improved in the post but still does not and cannot shoot the ball.
  • Embiid has missed seven straight games with knee soreness after participating in the meaningless All-Star game.
  • Even after wins, social media is nothing but one big fruitless argument over Brett’s  coaching philosophies and decision making.
  • Nonstop talk of Ben Simmons going to Los Angeles at some point in his career.
  • Nonstop talk of whether T.J. McConnell plays too much or not enough.
  • The bench still feels like a weakness.
  • They still can’t beat Boston or Toronto.
  • Zhaire Smith suffered the 1st round draft pick curse.

It seems strange to point out those things when the Sixers are on pace to win 50 games for the second straight season, which hasn’t been seen in this town since 1986, when I was two years old and Judas Priest had just released the Turbo album.

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