If the Phillies Can’t Get Above .500 Over the Next 10 Days, That’s Bad

If the Phillies Can’t Get Above .500 Over the Next 10 Days, That’s Bad

For all of the negativity surrounding the Phillies this season, they’re still alive, as backhanded of a compliment as that is. 6.5 games back of first place in the NL East, 7.0 out of a Wild Card spot don’t exactly equate to a couple of tight races, nor are they insurmountable leads as we crossover into June, either.

What might help to change some of the perceptions was if the Fightins weren’t having such a hard time of trying to push their record above .500, a place it has not visited at any point this season. They've not been so much as back to even since April 15 – going on seven weeks ago – so for that (and a variety of other reasons) you can’t really blame people for lacking in faith.

Frankly, Charlie Manuel and his squad are about to embark on a stretch of games where if significant progress is not made in the standings even the most optimistic fans and observers will be shaken. The Phils’ next 10 contests all come against either the Brewers or Marlins, two of the three worst teams in Major League Baseball.

In order to be above .500 when it’s said and done, all the Phillies need to do is win each series – three against the Brew Crew and the Fish in Philly, followed by a four-gamer in Milwaukee. Or simply post a minimum 7-3 record against a pair of teams who have combined to go 32-74 in 2013.

Actually, winning seven of 10 would move them two games above, creating something of a cushion for the Phils with another sub-.500 team on the horizon in the Twins.

Should they fail to do that, even given the absences of Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Roy Halladay, it ought to be enough to finally make Ruben Amaro start thinking long and hard about the future, meaning the trade deadline. The road isn’t going to get any easier from here, as they will already have burned both meetings with the Brewers and four of six against the Marlins. Sorry, the Astros aren’t on the slate this season.

The good news is the Phillies have remained competitive despite their inability to climb over the .500 hump. Prior to dropping a series in Washington last weekend, they were riding a 7-3 wave similar to the one we are hoping for over the next 10 days. Actually, they’ve been playing plus-.500 ball since dropping to a season-worst five games below the mark on April 25, going 17-14.

That’s nothing to hang their hats on, but it’s kept the Phils’ heads above water.

It’s hard to believe, but the club was in better position in the standings this time one year ago. They were a surprising 27-25 heading into June, just three games back of first place in the East. By the time the month was over, they were essentially out of the running, falling to eight games below .500 and 10 games back.

This time around, they should be making up ground rather than losing it. The schedule is set up for the Phillies to receive a bounce, which combined with the imminent returns of Utley and Chooch could provide some much-needed momentum for when the difficulty picks back up.

Of course, it could always go the other way. If the Phillies stand in place, or worse, slide in their series with the Brewers and Marlins, plenty of fans will be ready to jump ship. They should find plenty of company once they're overboard.

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).