FFR & PFR Combo: PHI 2, DAL 6 - Star Struck; PHI 8, WSH 2 - Something to Harp On
Not doing it.
Can't do this just on the Flyers, who lost 6-2 Tuesday night to the Dallas Stars. No, we need to talk about a different star - Bryce Harper, whose Phillies defeated his old team, the Washington Nationals, 8-2 in Bryce's first game back in D.C., with Harper right at the forefront. I don't want to abandon the FFR's with 2 games left in the season, so, to borrow a baseball term, let's do a doubleheader.
First is the worst, so we'll lead off with the Flyers. This game was a harsh, direct reminder of what could've been. Their opponent, the Dallas Stars, are not a perfect team. They have a lot of star power, but not much behind them. Their owner cursed out their two best players, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, back in December. They have dealt with injuries, just like any other team - Tuesday was Mats Zuccarello's second game as a Star, after he was injured two weeks into his Dallas debut.
And despite all of their flaws, with last night's win the Stars clinched a playoff birth, their first since 2016. Granted, if they were in the East, the Stars wouldn't even be in a playoff spot. But you have to give the Dallas Stars all of the credit in the world for not giving up on this season when there were so many reasons to. Not many picked the Stars to make the playoffs in an uber-competitive Central Division. I was one of them. But they've proved a lot of people wrong, and now will get their shot at the Stanley Cup.
In a way, the Stars are pretty similar to the Flyers. They both have some incredible stars right in their primes - Benn and Seguin for Dallas, Giroux and Voracek for the Flyers. With two stars like that, expectations are high. Yet both have underachieved with their current cores - the teams have combined for six playoff appearances since 2014 and have won a cumulative total of one series. Goaltending has been their most consistent issue, though both have found answers in Ben Bishop and Carter Hart (neither of who played Tuesday). Both recently supplemented their stars by signing a top-6 winger in free agency - Alexander Radulov in 2017 and JVR in 2018. Neither team has been in "rebuilding mode" in recent memory. They played near the end of the season last year with their roles essentially reversed - the Flyers were the ones on the right side of the playoff bubble, while the Stars season was dying right in front of them.
As it stands right now, the Flyers would have the 11th pick in this year's draft. They've also got a great young core and a bevy of prospects. The entire organization, from Chuck Fletcher to Andrew MacDonald and everyone in between, knows they have to be better. The Flyers have to and will make changes, but they need to be smart in doing so. The Stars were, and as a result, they're going to the playoffs. The Flyers goal? Don't just catch the Stars - surpass them. And a lot of other teams, too.
Now that we've taken our medicine, BRYCE HARPER IS A PHILLIE!
For the first time since 1915, the Philadelphia Phillies are 4-0. In their return to Washington D.C., Bryce Harper's home for the first 7 seasons of his big league career, the Philadelphia Phillies dominated the Washington Nationals by an 8-2 final score.
Harper's return to D.C. didn't start as planned. Facing Max Scherzer, runner-up for the 2018 NL Cy Young Award, the Phillies new star struck out swinging in each of his first two at-bats. Boos rained down amidst signs of "traitor," "snake," and photo shopped pictures of Benedict Arnold.
But the beautiful thing about this Phillies team is their depth. Eight-hole hitter Maikel Franco got the party started with a second-inning homer, his 3rd of the season. 6 teams in the MLB have fewer than he does. The Phillies are one of three teams yet to commit an error. Zach Eflin went five shutout innings, tying a career-high with 9 strikeouts. Odubel Herrera, who has a .349 average against Scherzer, doubled in the 4th and scored on a wild-pitch, the 6th of the at bat for the pitcher Eflin. Jean Segura put the game out of reach with a bases-clearing double in the 6th, his first out of the infield hit as a Phillie.
From there, Bryce woke up. Having already doubled off Scherzer in the 5th, Harper slapped an RBI single to left in the 6th off reliever Matt Grace, scoring Segura. The next time up, facing former Phillie Jeremy Hellickson, Harper hit a ball he made sure nobody could catch. Harper took an 89 MPH fastball and took it for a 458 ride, over the heads of eight buses worth of Phillies fans who made the trip, sitting in right field to have Bryce's back. For the second time this year, Harper acknowledged them with a fist pump and a dramatic bow.
Unlike the Flyers (11-1-1 stretch aside), this Phillies team defines fun. It's quite the treat after seven years of misery and wondering when the glory days would return. Not since 2011 have we seen a Phillies team as relaxed, together, and confident. Everything about them screams winners, body language to post-game interviews, and the results are backing them up. Last year, we were reminded of what winning was like. But this year, the Phillies have learned from the mistakes that plagued them down the stretch. And like everything else coming at them, they'll take a Nick Williams bat and blast it 500 feet before breaking its ankles with an Aaron Nola sinker.
There have been plenty of teases and mirages, but now, we can finally save it. The Phillies are back. Someday, the Flyers will be too.