If you had asked me a week ago how the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia 76ers would stand on the morning of May 7, I would have predicted a situation that’s the exact opposite of where they actually are. This past weekend saw the Phillies drop two of three games against the Washington Nationals, saw the Flyers go down three games to one to the New Jersey Devils, and saw the Sixers take a three-games-to-one lead over the Chicago Bulls.
Who’da thunk it?
The biggest surprise has to be the Sixers. With star guard Derrick Rose out of the lineup with a knee injury, the Bulls have been unable to score, which plays right into Philly’s hands. After allowing 103 points in a Game 1 loss, the Sixers have held the Bulls to 92, 74 and 89 points over the last three games, not surprisingly all wins.
The Sixers knew that if they were going to win this series – with or without Rose – they’d have to keep the score low, and they’re doing just that.
Guard Jrue Holliday has been the shining star in this series for the Sixers, averaging 21 points, 5.33 rebounds and 6 assists per game in the last three games. Center Spencer Hawes also had himself a solid game in yesterday’s Game 4 with 22 points and 8 rebounds.
A week ago, even with Rose injured, many people thought the Bulls would be too much for the Sixers to handle. Now, Philly has a chance to close out the series with one more win this week. Game 5 will be played in Chicago on Tuesday night (9:30 pm). Game 6, if necessary, would be Thursday night in Philly, and Game 7 would be Saturday back in Chicago.
On the NHL
The Flyers ineptitude in their series against the Devils is equally as puzzling as the Sixers’ success against the Bulls. With Philly dropping Game 4, 4-2 on Sunday night, the Devils now have a commanding 3-to-1 series lead heading into Tuesday night’s Game 5.
A week ago, the Flyers looked like the most explosive team left in the playoffs. After taking out the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round, scoring a ton of goals in the process, Philly came out flying in Game 1 against the Devils, winning 4-3 in overtime.
But the last three games of this series have gone completely different. The Devils have dominated even-strength play in Games 2-4 with a relentless forecheck that has frustrated the Flyers and caused turnover after turnover.
Despite allowing 4 goals in each of the last three games, goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has actually played quite well. The problem is the offense, which hasn’t done much at all. The Flyers have been consistently outshot on offense, including a brutal 43-22 mark in last night’s Game 4.
It was only two years ago that the Flyers were down three-games-to-none to the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs, so it’s not impossible to dig out of this hole they’re in. The difference this time is that they are being completely outplayed, outmanned and outclassed by a Devils team that just looks fresher and better.
The Devils can close out the series in Game 5 Tuesday night in Philly (7:30 pm). If the Flyers survive, Game 6 would be Thursday night in New Jersey, and Game 7 would be Saturday back in Philly.
Despite their early-season struggles, the Phillies had a grand opportunity this weekend to make a statement and close the gap with the Nationals in the NL East Division. Instead, a blown lead by the bullpen in Friday’s series opener and a 7-1 trouncing on Saturday gave the series to Washington. The Phillies were able to salvage a game last night, avoiding a sweep.
The biggest story from last night’s game wasn’t the Phillies’ win, though. It was pitcher Cole Hamels hitting Nationals’ super-prospect Bryce Harper with a pitch in the first inning and then admitting after the game that he did it on purpose.
Here’s what Hamels said after the game, according to an ESPN.com story:
“I was trying to hit him. I’m not going to deny it.”
“That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything because that’s the way baseball is.
“But I think unfortunately the league’s protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.
“It’s just, ‘Welcome to the big leagues.’ “
You gotta love Hamels’ approach. It’s almost like he’s saying, “Enough is enough. You guys may be in first place, and we may be struggling, but we’re still the team to beat.”
Sometimes, this early in the season, it’s about sending messages for later in the year. Hamels did just that with his first-inning pitch, and the Phillies followed suit with a 9-3 win. Let’s see if they can carry that into a winning streak during their upcoming home stand.
The Phillies open a three-game series against the New York Mets tonight, then they’ll host the San Diego Padres for three games starting Friday. The pitching matchups for the Mets series are: Roy Halladay vs. Jonathon Niese tonight, Joe Blanton vs. Miguel Batista tomorrow, and Cliff Lee vs. Dillon Gee on Wednesday.