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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Young players such as second-year defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (pictured) and 19-year-old rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny could be crucial to whether the Flyers improve this season. But the future has definitely arrived.

The Greek God of Wrestling analyzes Sunday’s Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, including the triple threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the Rumble match itself. Achilles Heel also lists matches for this weekend’s Ring of Honor and CHIKARA cards at 2300 Arena, tells you where to go Sunday to get autographs from and photo opportunities with Seth Rollins and Chris Jericho, and where you can hear Jim Ross tell stories and ask him questions.

Eric Fisher turns over his column this week to Achilles Heel, who offers poignant memories of the Ultimate Warrior, who died Tuesday just 3 days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Archive for May, 2018

Will first time be the charm?

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 28 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

The Stanley Cup Finals features two teams that aren’t supposed to be here. I certainly didn’t think they were supposed to be here. I picked against both the Golden Knights and the Capitals in two of their three series.

Who could have expected this finals matchup? The Golden Knights are making history by reaching the finals in their first season. The Capitals have never won the Stanley Cup, and their only finals appearance was 20 years ago.

The storylines will be Las Vegas trying to make history and future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin trying to make history. Both teams play a tight defensive style, so goals will be at a premium.

Let’s take a look at the Stanley Cup Finals.

CAPITALS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS

How Capitals got here: They defeated the Blue Jackets in 6 games, eliminated the Penguins in 6 games, and then outlasted the Lightning in 7 games.

How Golden Knights got here: They swept the Kings, eliminated the Sharks in 6 games, and then ousted the Jets in 5 games.

Capitals: The Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time during Alex Ovechkin’s amazing 13-year career. Ovechkin, who led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals, is leading the Capitals during the playoffs with 12 goals. He is second in points to Evgeny Kuznetsov (11 goals, 13 assists), who centers Ovechkin and Tom Wilson (12 points) on the top line. The problem for the Capitals has been scoring depth, but Nicklas Backstrom (4 goals, 12 assists) and T.J. Oshie (7 goals, 8 assists) and Lars Eller (5 goals, 9 assists) have alleviated that burden on Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. Andre Burakovsky scored his first goals of the postseason in Game 7 against the Lightning, which is a good sign for the Capitals. The defense has been terrific. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov usually draw the opponent’s top line, but Brooks Orpik leads the NHL in plus/minus rating at plus-15. Defenseman John Carlson, with 3 goals and 13 assists, tying Kuznetsov for the team lead, is plus-9. Most of Carlson’s points have come on the Capitals’ lethal power play. Braden Holtby, who regained the starting goalie role from Philipp Grubauer early in the first round, was terrific during the second-round series with the Penguins and magnificent while shutting out the Lightning during Games 6 and 7.

Golden Knights: Doubt the Golden Knights at your own risk. The Golden Knights were surprise winners of the Pacific Division and then surprised some people – including me – by sweeping the Kings during the first round. They have continued to surprise observers throughout the playoffs, needing just 15 games to reach the finals. One reason they finished first in the division and have excelled during the playoffs is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who posted a career-best .927 save percentage during the regular season. Fleury remains on a roll during the postseason, posting a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. Some members of the no-name defense are starting to make a name for themselves, most notably Brayden McNabb and Nate Schmidt, who was acquired from the Capitals during the expansion draft. Former Flyers first-round draft pick Luba Sbisa is part of the Golden Knights’ defense. Jonathan Marchessault (8 goals 10 assists) leads the Golden Knights in playoff scoring. Reilly Smith has been a revelation with a team-high 14 assists (he has 2 goals). Center William Karlsson, who emerged from obscurity with 43 goals and 35 assists during the regular seaosn, has 13 playoff points (6 goals, 7 assists). Pierre-Edouard Bellemare plays a fourth-line role similar to what he did with the Flyers.

Analysis: The Capitals seem like a team of destiny … but so do the Golden Knights. The Capitals have knocked off more impressive teams, but the Golden Knights have expended less energy in advancing. The Capitals have demonstrated tremendous heart throughout three grueling series. That might mean that the Golden Knights have a little more left in their tank. Fleury, who won the Stanley Cup the past two seasons as Matt Murray’s backup, has incentive to win this Cup as a starter. The Capitals have a dangerous power play, but the Golden Knights contained the high-flying Jets, so they should be able to contain the Capitals. Ovechkin is a sentimental pick to win the Cup, but the Golden Knights might be the better story. An expansion team has never won a championship in its inaugural season. Prepare for history. Golden Knights in 7

Phillies Notebook: Pitching is secret to success

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 28 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

It would have been better to write that the Phillies are in first place on Memorial Day. And that still could be true by the end of the night. But, as I write this Phillies Notebook, the Phillies are in second place in the National League East, just a half-game behind the Braves.

The Phillies spent a little less than 24 hours in first place during the Memorial Day Weekend, but Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays, combined with the Braves’ win over the Red Sox, dropped the Phillies (29-21) back to second place. Still, that doesn’t change the narrative of this Phillies season.

One year ago, we were beginning to question whether the Phillies would suffer through a historically bad season. After an 11-9 start, the Phillies plummeted in the standings during May, a freefall that would continue through early July.

The biggest difference for the Phillies is their starting pitching. It’s a simple formula. When you receive terrific starting pitching, your chances for success improve.

At the top of the rotation are Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Nola, who had a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings on Saturday, is 6-2 with a 2.27 ERA. Nola has 67 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings, and he has looked like the ace the Phillies had hoped he would become..

The late offseason pickup of Jake Arrieta has meant that Nola is not alone at the top of the rotation. Arrieta is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA. As important as his statistics is the professional attitude Arrieta brings to the pitching staff. Having a proven winner like this former Cy Young Award winner benefits everyone.

The middle of the rotation hasn’t been too bad, either. Nick Pivetta is 4-3 with a 3.26 ERA. Prior to his last start, Pivetta had allowed only one earned run during a 19-inning stretch. Even Vince Velasquez has given the Phillies quality starts. After a few rough starts at the beginning of the season, Velasquez has improved to 4-5 and a 4.18 ERA. He still throws too many pitches, but he no longer lets early mistakes derail him.

Zach Eflin is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in four starts since joining the rotation. Those are good numbers for a No. 5 starter.

There are other reasons for the Phillies’ terrific first two months of the season. Odubell Herrera (.333 batting average), who reached base during his first 441 games, has been terrific. Maikel Franco (.264, 8 home runs, 31 RBI) has been much more consistent and other players have produced timely hits.

On the whole, however, the Phillies offense includes plenty of disappointment. Herrera, Franco and Cesar Hernandez (.263) are the only starters hitting above. 240. Rhys Hoskins (.234), Scott Kingery (.221), Carlos Santana (.207) and Aaron Altherr (.194) are among those who aren’t pulling their weight.

The inconsistency in the lineup is further evidence that the main reason the Phillies are contenders – yes, you read that right – is their starting pitching.

*****

STREAK ENDS: Odubel Herrera’s on-base streak ended at 45 games during a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals on May 20. In typical Herrera fashion, the streak ended in bizarre fashion – with Herrera reaching base.

In his final at-bat, Herrera tried to check his swing on a pitch far outside the strike zone. He was unable to check his swing, but the pitch went all the way to the back stop. Herrera beat the throw to first base, but, from a statistical perspective, reaching base on a strikeout isn’t considered reaching base safely, so Herrera’s streak came to an end.

I have been critical of Herrera during his Phillies tenure, and he still fails to hustle from time to time, but there’s no denying that the good has far outweighed the bad for Herrera this season. He has been critical, if you’ll pardon the use of that word, to the Phillies’ success this season.

*****

RISING QUICKLY: Reliever Seranthony Dominguez hasn’t missed a beat since being promoted to the Phillies. Dominguez, who started the season with Class AA Reading, wasn’t with Class AAA Lehigh Valley for very long before being promoted to the majors. Since arriving with the Phillies, Dominguez has allowed just two hits during 10 1/3 shutout innings. He is 1-0 and recently picked up his first save. The Phillies certainly have to be considering Dominguez to be their closer in the future – or perhaps even in the present.

*****

CHANGE IN PLANS: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The Phillies attempted to solidify their bullpen during the offseason with the acquisitions of veterans Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. Neshek, re-acquired after the Phillies traded him last summer, has been sidelined by injuries since the beginning of the season. Hunter has a 5.11 ERA in 15 appearances.

The veteran relievers the Phillies were counting upon haven’t been very good. Closer Hector Neris is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA and has blown three of his 12 save opportunities.

The bullpen has been saved by holdovers such as Edubray Ramos (0.95 ERA in 22 appearances), Adam Morgan (1.84 ERA in 21 appearances), Luis Garcia (2.91 ERA in 26 appearances) and additions Seranthony Dominguez (see previous item) and Victor Arano (1.20 ERA in 13 appearances).

*****

MIXED RESULTS: First baseman Carlos Santana recently made errors in four consecutive games. That has to be slightly concerning for the Phillies. Equally concerning is that, despite a resurgence in May, Santana is batting .207. On the other hand, he leads the team in home runs (9) and RBI (32).

*****

COMING THROUGH IN A PINCH: Outfielder Nick Williams would prefer to start, but he’s making a name for himself as a pinch hitter. Williams’ pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning Saturday boosted the Phillies to a 2-1 victory over the Braves and into first place in the National League East. Williams has three pinch-hit home runs this season, and all of them were game-winning blasts. Overall, Williams is 9 for 19 as a pinch hitter this season.

*****

UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: The Phillies’ brief stay in first place during Memorial Day Weekend was their first time in first place since the end of the 2011 season.

*****

TIGHT RACE: While all eyes have been on the Phillies’ battle with the Braves for first place, the Nationals (29-22) have closed to within a half-game of the Phillies. The Nationals have a remarkable 17-8 road record while being below .500 (12-14) at home.

*****

CATCHING ON: Catcher Jorge Alfaro is becoming a defensive force. He has thrown out 10 of 29 runners attempting to steal this season, but that includes a recent streak in which he threw out 7 of 10 runners. Teams are catching on to the fact that stealing with Alfaro behind the plate is a difficult task.

*****

HITTING THE ROAD: The Phillies hit the road on Memorial Day to begin a 10-game road trip. They face the Dodgers for four games, and then move on to San Francisco for a weekend series with the Giants. After an off day next Monday, the Phillies go to Wrigley Field for three games with the Cubs. The road trip is followed by nine games against teams currently in first place (6 with the Brewers and three with the Rockies), so this next stretch is a crucial one of the Phillies.

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie