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.

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

The Eagles might not have any top-flight cornerbacks, but they certainly have a lot of guys with some talent.

Many of them are young, and all of them are battling for just several roster spots.

That hodgepodge of talent has made the corner position one of the more intriguing spots at this year's training camp. We're not sure how it'll all shake out, who will be the starters, who will be the depth players.

But one thing's for certain: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants all of them to be aggressive.

"It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete," Schwartz said after practice Tuesday. "We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here. If they'll get up and they'll challenge receivers, like I said before, if you can cover — you can't cover many people if you don't want to challenge guys. That's God's honest truth. I could play the deep ball. I'd get my ass 50 yards deep and you couldn't get one over the top of me, but I couldn't cover anything else.

"There's a fine line in there. And the fine line is you obviously have to play the deep ball in this league, but if that's the only thing you're worried about, you're not going to cover anything else."

Schwartz said he's happy with the blend of veteran and young players on the roster, before rattling off five names: Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, JaCorey Shepherd and rookie Jalen Mills.

The one notable omission from that list of names is second-year player Eric Rowe, who finished last year as a starter, but has been somewhat of a forgotten man this spring and summer. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson mentioned some "hiccups" Rowe encountered learning the new defensive scheme (see story).

Even with Rowe buried on the depth chart for now, there are still plenty of talented, young corners fighting for jobs.

Carroll, on the other hand, isn't young. He's 29 and a returning starter from last year. Schwartz praised Carroll's smarts and said he's been a resource for younger players. But Carroll is also coming off of a fibula fracture and subsequent surgery. That's why he's one of the select vets that reported to camp early.

"This is important for him now," Schwartz said. "It's a good opportunity for him to come back before the full club gets here, just to sort of test it out and see how he's feeling. You don't want to judge too much. He might need a day here or there. It helps that he's a veteran player."

It seems Carroll, on a one-year deal, has a decent shot of being a starter opposite McKelvin. During the spring, Brooks worked outside in the base package and moved inside to the slot. At times, the rookie Mills also played in the slot.

Schwartz said corners in the slot need a different set of skills than the ones outside. They need to have the "courage" to take on big-bodied running backs and the occasional pulling guard. They also need to cover differently.

"It's very rare that you're getting the same routes," he said. "You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from the outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't. So it's our job to determine over the next six weeks where all the guys fit in that."

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Wayne, Pa. -- Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q+A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime.