5 things

Phillies-Padres 5 things: Mark Leiter Jr. back on the bump as a starter

Phillies-Padres 5 things: Mark Leiter Jr. back on the bump as a starter

Phillies (43-73) at Padres (52-66)
10:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their series opener Monday night in San Diego despite a decent outing from Jerad Eickhoff.

Fortunately, there were positive signs from their offense, and tonight they'll be putting one of their better arms of late on the hill.

1. Homerin' Hoskins
What was best? The silent treatment after Rhys Hoskins' first major-league blast, the fact that he added a second homer later on or his family's celebration of the two shots?

The answer is all three. After starting his career with the Phils 0 for 12, Hoskins notched his first hit Sunday and sent two baseballs into the stands Monday night — the first at 402 feet and the second at 400 — becoming the first Phillie to hit two homers in a game this quickly since Don Money in 1969. It was only a matter of time until the 24-year-old slugged a home run, especially given that he was leading the International League with 29 before his promotion last week.

So what does Hoskins have planned for his encore performance? The Phillies hope Hoskins provide consistent offense like Nick Williams has delivered since he arrived from Lehigh Valley. 

Hoskins was slashing .284/.385/.581 at Triple A, and if he can come somewhat close to those numbers with the big club, the Phils could see their offense begin to take another step forward.

Tonight Hoskins will face Padres righty Dinelson Lamet, who has been particularly good against right-handed batters. Right-handed hitters are hitting just .147 against Lamet, who is allowing a .276 average from lefties.

2. Leit it up
The last couple of appearances couldn't have gone much better for Mark Leiter Jr. Over the span of two lengthy relief appearances in the last 10 days, Leiter has tossed 9 1/3 innings, allowing just one earned run on six hits with a whopping 16 strikeouts.

This all comes after a rough month-and-a-half for the 26-year-old. Following his first major-league win at Arizona on June 23, when he went six shutout innings, Leiter watched his ERA balloon from 3.60 to 4.86 in just four outings with the Phillies and has been up and down between Philly and Lehigh Valley.

If Leiter can now carry his consistency over from the bullpen, there's a legit chance that he could stick in the rotation for the remainder of the season. Certainly, Eickhoff and Aaron Nola aren't going anywhere, but it's not clear when Vince Velazquez will be back on the hill, and neither Nick Pivetta or Zach Elfin has been very good.

Leiter won't blow you away with speed, but his deception and control have been incredibly good as of late, and none of these Padres have ever faced him before, meaning he'll likely have the upper hand early on Tuesday night. The son of an 11-year MLB pitcher now has his chance to show that he deserves to stick around for a while.

3. Top of the shop
Of the Phils' 11 hits Monday night, seven came from the first four guys in the Phillies' order. Hoskins, Freddy Galvis and Odubel Herrera each had a pair plus one from Cesar Hernandez. Add in Williams (who hit sixth), and that's not a bad group to move forward with.

The question now becomes whether the Phillies can find some top-to-bottom offense. They still rank second-to-last in the majors in runs scored (the only team behind them is San Diego) and they are third-to-last in homers (San Francisco, the team they'll play next, is last).

It's not necessarily a matter of whether the Phils are actually winning games right now, but you're talking about guys (including Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr) that are all 27 years old or younger and under team control for at least another season.

While the pitching remains a major uncertainty, the Phils need to hope that this group of guys, or at least a few of them, can become their offensive core. 

4. So much for a relief
Let's just be blunt about it: Ricardo Pinto was downright bad Monday night. He needed 45 pitches to get through two innings, surrendered five runs on just four hits, gave up two walks and a solo homer to Cory Spangenberg.

On the bright side, the rest of the Phils' bullpen will be available tonight. Still, no one among that group has a sub-3.00 ERA and is there anyone that you actually trust?

It's hard to imagine Leiter going too deep into tonight's contest, meaning that someone is going to have to finish the game off and potentially hold a lead. It may not be a problem now, but you can only hope that some guys emerge going forward.

5. This and that
• Hoskins isn't the only Phillie to hit a pair of home runs in the game which he hit his first homer. Scott Rolen did it back on Aug. 21, 1996 — but that was also his 21st major-league game.

• Leiter's best outings this year all have come against the NL West, oddly enough. His first win came at Arizona, his nine-strikeout performance was in Colorado and he's shut out both San Francisco and the Dodgers in relief appearances.

Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams


Union-FC Dallas 5 things: Time running out on playoff dreams

Union vs. FC Dallas
7 p.m. on TCN

With three losses in their last four matches, the stumbling Union (7-10-5) look to activate home-field advantage and kick their slide against Western Conference powerhouse FC Dallas (9-4-7) on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know:

1. Running out of time
With 12 games remaining, the Union’s postseason hope is up against the clock. 

“Six home, six away left. There’s lots of soccer out there,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “We recognize our margin for error is a small one now. We’ve done that to ourselves, but we have a good group.” 

As it stands, the Union are six points out from the final playoff position, but are in a battle with the Columbus Crew, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution and Orlando City to get in. To make matters worse, the Union can’t string together victories. The club has one win in its last five matches.

“There are four to five teams that have their eye on that spot and we all play each other a bunch down the stretch and those games are huge,” Curtin said. “It’s not an area you want to be in but at the same time, it’s a situation we put ourselves in. Things can change fast in this league. It starts with getting on a run and getting above that red line. It’s not going to be easy.”

That run could start on Saturday. Though the Union are playing one of the best in MLS in FC Dallas, they are at home. The Union are 6-3-2 at Talen Energy Stadium and have scored 20 of their 29 total goals there this season. 

“You have to find ways to win your home games in this league,” Curtin said. “Our road total in points is not good enough. It’s something we have to rectify. It’s going to take more than last year’s point total, so we have our work cut out for us but it’s not impossible. 

“We’ve been solid at home and we need to continue that.”

2. Without Blake
If the Union want a positive result against FC Dallas, they’ll likely have to do it without Andre Blake, who sliced his hand open in the Gold Cup final game against the U.S. men’s national team and still hasn’t fully recovered.

“Andre is still healing, he still has the stitches in,” Curtin said. “He ended up with seven stitches that go from one side to the other. We’re hopeful for the weekend. He’s been able to do technical exercises with the group, working on his footwork and staying active. We need to get clearance from the doctors that he won’t do further damage.”

Curtin then sounded more cautious on Blake’s return. The goalkeeper, who is tied for second in MLS shutouts with seven, missed the Union’s last five matches. 

“We’re following the medical side on this one,” the manager said. “There’s a chance but probably unlikely.” 

But fortunately for the Union, they have a backup plan. The Union expect backup keeper, John McCarthy, who has opened eyes since taking over for Blake (see story), to continue filling the shoes of the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

“Johnny has done a really good job stepping up his game in a tough spot,” Curtin said. “For him to have the success he’s had speaks to all the hard work he’s put in. He’s stepped up in a big way and has done a great job.” 

3. Redemption Dallas
FC Dallas enters Saturday’s match with a bad taste in its mouth. 

“After our last result at home, [these are] points that we need to take,” FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman said. “Points that will put us back in the Supporters’ Shield race. We’ve had a very successful run the last few games, we just need to keep that going.”

The club, which will be without suspended midfielders Atiba Harris and Carlos Gruezo, hit an irregular bump in the road last week against the Vancouver Whitecaps, dropping the match, 4-0. The home loss snapped a five-game unbeaten streak and three-game winning run.

“They are also coming off a disappointing result,” said Curtin, whose club lost to the Revolution, 3-0, last week. “We know they will be angry and eager to go.”

But even with that extra motivation, FC Dallas isn’t overlooking a desperate Union club.

“You can’t take any team in this league lightly,” FC Dallas midfielder Ryan Hollingshead said. “We’ll be looking for mounting back. It’s a big opportunity for us to get road points. We know Philadelphia has strengths and weaknesses and we’ll have to be ready for them.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union’s leading scorer with 10 goals and five assists on the season, C.J. Sapong is the engine that makes the offense tick. In his last match at home, Sapong put up a goal and two helpers, setting a career high. Eight of Sapong’s 10 goals this season have happened at home.

FC Dallas: Tied for the league lead in assists with 10, Michael Barrios could be the key to unlocking the Union back line. 

5. This and that
• The Union have never defeated FC Dallas in MLS play, going 0-5-4 all-time and 0-1-3 at home.

• While FC Dallas has no listed injuries, the Union are limping a bit. Center back Oguchi Onyewu (groin strain) and Fafa Picault (hamstring strain) join Blake as questionable for Saturday.

• The first time FC Dallas visited Philadelphia was a heartbreaker for the Union. Amobi Okugo and Aaron Wheeler scored but Blas Perez’s 95th-minute goal ended the match, 2-2.

Flyers-Bruins 5 things: Latest in long line of must-win games

Flyers-Bruins 5 things: Latest in long line of must-win games

Flyers (31-27-8, 70 points) at Bruins (35-26-6, 76 points)
1 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports App 

Time is running short on this season for the Flyers, who are in Boston on Saturday afternoon to meet the Bruins in yet another critical game in the wild-card chase.

It's a big one for both clubs as both are fighting for their playoff lives.

Let's take a closer look at Saturday's matinee matchup.

1. Gotta have it
The Flyers will enter Saturday afternoon's contest five points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild-card spot in the East with 15 games to play. Needless to say, destiny is not in the Flyers' hands.

And that's why the Flyers need these two points on Saturday. Think of the consequences if the Flyers fall to the B's. If the Flyers fall in regulation and the Isles beat the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday evening, the Flyers would be seven points back of New York with 14 games to play. And they would need plenty of help along the way as they'd still likely have to jump Tampa, Florida and Toronto.

Now, it's really desperation time.

"Going into Boston, it's going to be huge for us," Shayne Gostisbehere said after Thursday’s loss in Toronto. "It's going to be a playoff-like atmosphere for us. We're going to need two points."

The term "must-win" has been thrown around a lot recently with the Flyers, and rightfully so with time winding down in the season. But if they drop this one, the consequences could be devastating.

If things weren’t tough enough, the Flyers will see a Bruins team hungry to hang on to the third spot in the Atlantic Division and not fall into the wild-card cluster.

2. Momentum kill
The Flyers' power play snapped out of an 0-for-14 funk Thursday with Wayne Simmonds' deflection in the first period against the Leafs. But as one special-teams unit showed a pulse, the other continued to flat-line.

After giving up two power-play tallies to the Sabres on Tuesday, the Flyers allowed two more to the Leafs on Thursday, including an absolute backbreaker by Mitch Marner late in the third period that made the score 3-1 in favor of Toronto.

The power-play goals against the Flyers the last two games have been momentum killers in important moments.

But the Sabres and Leafs also have the top two power plays in the league. The Bruins check in at 13th with the man advantage. So still another formidable test for the Flyers' PK. 

3. New bench boss, new Bruins
An era ended last month when Boston axed Claude Julien after 10 years on the job and the 2011 Stanley Cup.

Enter interim head coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins have taken off under his watch. 

Under Julien, the Bruins were averaging 2.56 goals per game. However, in the 12 games since Cassidy took over, the B's have scored 3.75 goals per game. It's been an offensive renaissance that has helped the Bruins earn 18 points in the standings since Cassidy took over and has propelled them from the outskirts of the playoffs into the top three in the Atlantic.

Combine the offensive outburst with all-world goalie Tuukka Rask and you have the Bruins' recipe for success.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: We'll go with Gostisbehere. He has just looked so much more confident on the ice over the last several weeks. And he's hitting the net more, too, so that obviously helps. But a confident Gostisbehere is a dangerous Gostisbehere. He's got some of that swagger that we saw last season back. And he was great against the Leafs with a goal and an assist. He's now up to six goals and 23 assists on the year.

Bruins: Have to go with the guy everyone loathes but wishes was on their team, Brad Marchand. "The Little Ball of Hate," as he is lovingly known, is in the midst of a spectacular season with 32 goals and 38 assists for 70 points. You always have to know where Marchand is on the ice, and it's usually not hard to find him as he'll be causing a ruckus or getting under someone's skin when he's not putting the puck in the net. He's got nine goals and 10 assists in 24 regular-season games vs. the Flyers.

5. This and that
•​ Saturday's game will be the rubber match between the Flyers and Bruins this season. The Flyers took a 3-2 shootout decision in Philadelphia on Nov. 29. The Bruins ran over the Flyers en route to a 6-3 win on Jan. 14 in Beantown.

•​ Steve Mason is expected to start in net for the Flyers after Michal Neuvirth started Thursday in Toronto. Mason was excellent in the shootout win over Boston in November with 45 saves. 

•​ Simmonds' goal in Toronto was his 14th power-play goal of the season, which tied him with teammate Brayden Schenn for the league lead.

•​ If you haven’t read it yet, check out CSNPhilly.com Flyers Insider Tim Panaccio’s story on what Jake Voracek had to say about the NHL’s indecision on playing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. It’s an interesting look from the players’ perspective and Voracek had some very passionate quotes about the situation and wanting to play for his native Czech Republic.