Five in a Row and Five Games Back

Five in a Row and Five Games Back

Healthier than they've been all season, the Phillies have put together a post trade-deadline run that sees them banging on the door of Wild Card contention in time for the change to playoff baseball weather. Kyle Kendrick, now firmly in the rotation, has been brilliant, and last night he pitched the Phils to their fifth straight win and ninth in their last 11. They now sit five games back in the Wild Card hunt, just one game below .500. 
Kendrick has won five of his last six starts and allowed just two runs in his only loss over that stretch. In last night's 3-1 win over the Marlins, Kendrick went seven strong, holding a no-hitter until the sixth inning. 
Surrendering only two hits all night, Kendrick struck out a career-best eight batters. He escaped a bases loaded situation in the sixth by striking out Giancarlo Stanton and allowed his lone run in the seventh before turning the game over to the bullpen for the final two frames. Justin De Fratus induced a pair of strikeouts, and Jake Diekman got Jose Reyes to fly out for the third. Antonio Bastardo had the closing duties for the night, and he took home the save facing only three batters, the last of whom was Greg Dobbs, who struck out to end the game. 
At the plate, Domonic Brown put the Phils on the board in the fifth with a shot to right after Ty Wigginton drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Michael Martinez doubled aboard, then was moved to third by Kendrick. With two outs and Jimmy Rollins at the plate, Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc uncorked a two-strike wild pitch, and Martinez was across the plate before the Miami battery could clean up the spill. Ozzie Guillen hilarity ensued as the Marlins manager protested for a strikeout he wouldn't get until after the damage was done. 
That was all the offense the Phillies would need with Kendrick on the hill and a suddenly solid bullpen locking things down. CSNPhilly's John Finger points out that KK is 5-2 with a 2.26 ERA in his last nine starts; including his previous seven relief appearances, his ERA is below 2 at 1.98. Yanked in and out of the rotation and started on a moment's notice when needed, Kendrick has done everything asked of him, and now found a groove that is helping to fuel once-lost playoff hopes. [Full recap and a look at how Kendrick has emerged]
Pittsburgh is the team just in front of the Phils on their way up the ladder, and the Bucs have lost four straight. The Dodgers are a game back of the Cardinals, who hold the final Wild Card slot and lost in San Diego last night. The Brewers, also sitting at 70-71, and the Diamondbacks (69-72) are fighting for the spot too. 
Twenty-one games to go. How many can the Phillies win?
(AP Photo)

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."

Allen Iverson releases new holiday sock collection with Stance


Allen Iverson releases new holiday sock collection with Stance

You may remember back in July when Allen Iverson x Stance first teamed up for A.I.'s signature sock collection. Well they're back with some fresh new designs for a holiday collection. 

The newest collection has a variety of styles, from classic crew to the "super invisible" that work wonderfully in the summertime.

Here's how Stance's Tzvi Twersky describes the new looks:

In terms of the designs, the leading socks features a rarely-seen-before picture from legendary photographer Gary Land. A second sock, Fame Ring, nods to Iverson's affection for his HOF hardware. Yet another, Iverson Stats, visually explains why AI is one of the pound-for-pound best. The last two socks, one a crew and one a super invisible, are inspired by, well, AI.

It's just a shame that the Hall of Fame hardware doesn't have any World Championship hardware to go alongside it.

You can pick them up today on