Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Love him or hate him, Chris Wheeler summed it up best just before tonight's winning run came across the plate in the top of the eleventh: "Nothing's comin' easy."

The Phillies took a three-run lead on a Jimmy Rollins blast in the second inning, then waited through an hour and seven minute rain delay before allowing it to drip away one frame at a time. The offense could not add to their total, Ryan Madson blew his first save of the season, and the club finally fell apart during extras when Placido Polanco failed to make a fairly routine play at third base to extend the game. Cubs steal one, 4-3.

Tonight's loss will be tough to swallow, as the Phils had every opportunity to play the role of finishers against a struggling ball club. Instead, Chicago kept coming back at the home team, and eventually outlasted them.

You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic, But You Can't Predict the Weather
The trouble began when the tarp came off the diamond. Kyle Kendrick, who had pitched well through three innings, was unable to return after the pause. From there, Charlie Manuel embarked on a mission to use every available arm, so by the time the tenth rolled around, the only remaining reliever was David Herndon.

Denys Baez went the farthest, giving the team a competent 2.2 innings after the delay. While he seems to have relished the longer appearances in recent weeks, Baez may have tired in the top of the sixth, plunking Darwin Barney with two outs to set up a Starlin Castro RBI single. Barney stole second, and scored when Domonic Brown's throw from right field took a wicked bounce that Dane Sardinha couldn't handle.

Romero, Stutes, and Bastardo combined for a scoreless 1.2, but Jose Contreras saw the lead cut to one on his watch after a pair of doubles by Castro and Carlos Pena in the eighth.

Madson Falters
In the ninth, Madson blew the save, but he nearly cost them the game entirely. After Geovany Soto took the closer deep to left center to knot the score at three, it appeared the very next batter gave the Cubs the lead. Tyler Colvin drove another bomb over the wall in right, but replays showed it may have been aided by a Phillies(?) fan. The umpires went inside for a replay session, and indeed wound up sending Colvin back to second base. Madson worked his way out of the inning after the gift.

Was fan interference the correct call? (take a closer look here) The guy clearly leaned over the fence, but I wasn't sure there was conclusive evidence that ball didn't have the distance. In any event, it gave the Phils a second chance, and the imbecile was escorted from the stadium, so at least that much was win-win.

Another Long Night
The Fightins had a shot to take the game in the tenth, but the depleted bullpen reared its ugly head. Shane Victorino drew a two-out walk, and Raul Ibanez reached on an infield single. That brought Brown to the plate, but with Herndon's spot up next, Cubs manager Mike Quade called for the intentional walk.

While Wilson Valdez was willing and able, Charlie left Herndon in the game and prayed for the best. A reliever with two career Major League at bats, Herndon swung meekly at strike three, and the threat was over.

Not Like This...
File under "Not Meant to Be."

Colvin led off the eleventh with softly hit ball up the first base line, which he nearly outran. Howard got to it with little time to spare, but couldn't get the pill out of his glove in time for a flip. It appeared as if Herndon might come unglued after the runner advanced when a passed ball got through Carlos Ruiz, but back-to-back K's pulled the situation back to manageable.

Barney grounded the ball down the third base line to a charging Polanco, who had what looked like a relatively easy play at first. Instead, the usually steady Polanco short-armed the throw, and Ryan Howard wasn't able to dig it out. Colvin came flying around third, easily scoring the game's decisive run.

Time to Point Fingers
There is plenty of blame to go around after a loss like this. One group at least that should be left off the hook is the Phils' pitching staff. Sure, the bullpen allowed some runs tonight, but they weren't actively bad. Madson was probably due, and the winning score flat out wasn't Herndon's fault.

You could question Manuel's frequent use of the bullpen, however. I hope they have plenty of Anytime minutes out there. Four pitchers didn't even get a full inning of work, and obviously it created problems later in the game, when instead of managing to win the game, he was forced to manage it not to lose. While the Phillies mulled their limited options, the Cubs still had plenty of arms ready to go deep into the night.

But ultimately you have to look at the everyday guys. The offense has long since been a source of discontent, and tonight they didn't record a hit for five innings. On top of it, a series of shoddy defensive plays directly resulted in the winning run coming across. It's enough not to hit, but if the sloppy execution in the field continues, even the Phillies' pitching won't be able to save them.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).