The Friday Four – Brown Stays Hot; Flyers Struggle

Dom Brown is hitting .426 with three homers this spring with the Phillies

1. Phillies Brown & Howard keep spring bats hot

Despite the Phillies subpar 6-7 record this spring, fans are keeping their eyes on the Phils offense. First baseman Ryan Howard and outfielder Dom Brown have been drawing a lot of attention this spring, and it is deserved. Brown has adjusted his stance and seems more comfortable at the plate while Ryan Howard is coming back strong after a season that was shortened by his Achilles injury in 2012.

Let’s talk quickly about Brown first. If you have watched or listened to any Phillies coverage this season, the thing surrounding Dom is his confidence and his approach. He changed his hand position on the bat and it seems to be working out well for him. When interviewed in late February, Brown stated he is just trying to simplify.

 “I’m just keeping it simple. Just going up there and making sure my approach is good. I’m seeing the ball well and trying to swing at strikes. I wouldn’t say I’ve changed approach, just fine tuning. That’s it. … I making sure I’m going out there and working hard and not putting pressure on myself and having fun and doing it because I want to do it like Chuck always says. I’m out there because I want to do it, not because they’re forcing me to do it.”

He talked about his success this spring thus far with Phillies beat reporter, Todd Zolecki yesterday as well.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Brown said. “The thing about it is, with the hitting coaches we have, they don’t let you take an at-bat off. If I do something during an at-bat, they’re saying something to me when I get back to the dugout, even if I get a hit on the next pitch. That keeps me focused.”

Let’s move on to Ryan Howard, who many consider to still be a contractual nightmare. I don’t completely disagree, but if he fully recovers, there is no reason we shouldn’t see 30-40 homers and 100+ RBI this year. Through 12 games this spring, Howard is hitting .364 with three homers and 11 RBI. After playing 14 straight games, Howard got the day off today. In a CSNPhilly.com article by Jim Salisbury, Charlie Manuel planned for Howard to play this much.

“If you’re going to play 162 games, you’ve got to get in shape to play 300,” Manuel said.

Manuel, of course, was kidding about playing Howard in 162 games. He’ll get days off during the season. But Manuel is serious about having Howard come into the season ready to go, especially after the slugging first baseman missed all of spring training and half of the regular season last year as he recovered from a torn left Achilles tendon.

“I felt like we had to get him in shape,” Manuel said. “He’s getting to where we want him. Hard work never hurt nobody. He’ll be in shape. I’ll monitor him and he’ll get his time off.”

2. Flyers fall to Rangers and Pens this week

After finally reaching the .500 mark, the Flyers entered a tough stretch, two games that have been played already. On Tuesday night, they got beaten by the Rangers, and last night they blew a 4-1 lead over the Pens and lost 5-4. The best way to describe the Flyers this year would have to be disappointing yet still undefined. With 23 points, they are sitting at 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 23 games left to play. The biggest hole in the team at this point seems to be defense. They are older with Timonen and Grossman and lack the experience with their young guys in Gustafsson, Gervais and others. The defensive breakdowns and lack of offensive consistency (with the exception of Voracek and Simmonds). Chris Pronger spoke to the media for the first time since late 2011 and shed his light on the defense.

“I would say they’re like the rest of the team,” Pronger said. “We’re just a little inconsistent right now with mistakes. It’s not always the same guy making the mistakes. I think we need to just make the game simple.

Voracek leads the team with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists), while Giroux and Simmonds follow with 24 and 19 respectively. Goaltending has also been an issue this year. Although Bryz has looked a little better than last year, he has still looked very out of place on plenty of goals. In yesterday’s game against the Penguins, coach Laviolette kept things pretty basic when it came to explaining the first-to-second period change.

“The second period was not a good period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It was the opposite of the first period. In the first period, we were skating, we were physical, we put the puck behind them and looked to establish our game. And in the second period, they picked up their game, we stopped working. The second period went to them.”

Zac Rinaldo, in a recent CSNPhilly column, said that the team is not worried about where they are right now. Are you?

3. Sixers continue season downfall

I am not one to root for my teams to fail to get a draft pick, but with how ugly the Sixers (23-37) are playing right now, I really see nothing to gain by winning. The season is a huge disappointment, with the Bynum saga and and another “eh” year from draft bust Evan Turner. John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly wrote his thoughts on whether or not the Sixers should tank for the lottery. Find that article here. Doug Collins spoke about the team and winning in the column.

“To play every game to win,” Collins said without hesitation. “We’ve still got younger guys that we’re trying to develop and grow. And we want to win. We’re going to play to win every single game and keep the spirits high. … Keep guys positive, keep them competing, keep them having fun. You know, I want them to have fun playing and not make it look like they’re playing out the string. I’ve never been in that situation before. You’re sort of asking someone who’s foreign to that. I’ve never done that. From our standpoint, we’re going to try to play hard every single night and compete.”

The lone bright spots this season are obvious in Jrue Holiday and Thad Young. Heading into tonight’s game against Miami - yikes - Jrue is average 19 points and 8.6 assists per game while Thad is averaging 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds. What is lacking in the Sixers game? A big man. Thad Young and Evan Turner both average more boards than Spencer Hawes, who has been defined as nothing less than a soft defender. The strength of this team last year was the bench. Sure, Nick Young pretty much replaced Lou Williams, but Lou brought an attitude to the game and team that seems to be missing. The loss of Jason Richardson doesn’t help either, but his days were numbered as is.

Where should this franchise go from here? Other than regretting this Bynum trainwreck, I think it is time to cut the losses and restructure. Thad and Jrue are the keys to this team, but I wouldn’t want Bynum re-signed and I wouldn’t mind seeing Evan Turner traded while he is still worth something. In three words, I’ve given up. If you need another reason – here you go - During the final stretch of the season, they must play Miami, the L.A. Clippers, Denver, Utah, Atlanta again, Miami again, Brooklyn and Indiana….and most are on the road. My final record prediction? 28-54.

4. Eagles bits and pieces

Reuben Frank analyzes the five best and worst free agent signings for the Eagles here. Among the worse are Nnamdi and Vince Young while Jon Runyan and Troy Vincent make the best.

If you haven’t heard, Freddie “Fred Ex” Mitchell, best known for his 4th and 26 catch, faces up to 10 years in prison for being a part of a tax fraud scheme. More details on that here.

Another Eagles front office member is heading to join Reid with the Cheifs. Top scout Brett Veach is headed to KC. This is quite unfortunate, especially with the draft upcoming. Veach talked about his new opporunity on CSNPhilly.com.

“Basically, an opportunity presented itself in Kansas City to be a part of Coach Reid’s staff again and [general manager] John Dorsey staff, and it was an opportunity I was excited about,” Veach, a native of Mount Carmel, Pa., and former University of Delaware standout, told CSNPhilly.com.

Veach said he left on great terms with the Eagles, calling his time there “six unbelieveable years” of learning under general manager Howie Roseman, former player personnel chief Ryan Grigson (now the Colts’ general manager) and director of college scouting Anthony Patch.

“Those guys taught me everything I know to this point,” Veach said. “You’re talking about three really sharp minds that I learned from every day.”

Upcoming schedule - This weekend the Sixers face the Heat tonight at 8PM and then head to Orlando for a 6PM match-up on Sunday. The Flyers will try to rebound from two straight losses as they travel to Boston for a 1PM matchup against the Bruins. They quickly head home afterwards for a Sunday night match-up against the Sabres at 7:30PM.

Thanks for reading

-BA

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