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.

Report: Nerlens Noel upset with Sixers' situation at center

Report: Nerlens Noel upset with Sixers' situation at center

After being in the middle of trade rumors over the last few months, Nerlens Noel appears to frustrated with his situation with the Sixers, according to the Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

The Sixers have three starting-caliber centers — Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, who's now healthy — heading into this season.

"I think it's just silly," Noel told Pompey. "With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to set something done this summer.

"Don't get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court. But at the end of the day, it's like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn't make any sense.

"And it's just not going to work to anybody's advantage having that on the same team. That's how I'm looking at it. I'm not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated."

The Sixers flirted with having two big men on the court at the same time last season, with Noel and Okafor but with no real success. 

He has a point, and the team knows it.

During the summer, reports swirled saying the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor for backcourt help.

Noel, who's in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't appear to believe the current situation will work.

"I think something needs to happen," he said.

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

Darren Sproles 'amazing' 73-yard TD set tone for fun 2nd half vs. Steelers

When Darren Sproles caught the nifty touch pass from Carson Wentz around midfield, there was little doubt about what would happen next.

"Touchdown," running back Kenjon Barner said after the Eagles' stunning 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers (see Instant Replay)
 
Really? With that many yards to go?

"Touchdown," he said. "As soon as he caught the ball. There was nobody there. That guy in the open field — you're not going to bring him down by yourself. With that much space — touchdown."

Barner wasn't the only one.

"Man, it's Sproles! Did you think he was going to get tackled?" receiver Nelson Agholor said incredulously. 

Uhh …

"Man, listen, it's Darren Sproles, and if you second-guessed him, then I don't know what you're thinking," he said. "I'm surprised if he gets tackled."

So is center Jason Kelce. 

"I was actually celebrating before he scored the touchdown, because I watched the whole thing unfold," Kelce said. "It was just a great play. [Wentz] scrambles out and then has the common sense to when the defender comes to him to dump it over top to Sproles, and that dude, once he gets the ball in space, it's incredibly special."

It sure was. 

First, Wentz stepped away from charging defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who had gotten away from Allen Barbre. 

“I came out and saw Sproles and he just turned up the field,” Wentz said. “Anytime that you can put it in [his hands], something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it.” 

Wentz did a little more than that (see story). After escaping the sack, he rushed to his right and made a right turn. Then he parallelled the line of scrimmage, drawing linebacker Ryan Shazier toward him — and allowing Sproles to get wide open.

Whoops.

"I thought he crossed the line of scrimmage, so I ran up," Shazier said. "It was my fault."

Sproles caught the pass, snaked his way the remaining 50 yards, spinning Steelers rookie safety Sean Davis around a couple times and watching rookie corner Artie Burns flail at him helplessly right before crossing the goal line.

"When they do that, it kind of gets everyone off their job when he extends the play like that," Davis said. "Me being a deep player, I just tried to buy us some time once I saw that we got broken down and let the defense rally up, and it's just a good play [by] him."

An amazing play. It was a 73-yard touchdown on the fourth play of the third quarter, a 3rd-and-8, and put the Eagles up 20-3 (see 10 observations). It was the second-longest catch of Sproles' career and longest since 2009 while with the Chargers (an 81-yarder vs. Baltimore). It was easily the longest TD of Wentz’s career and a main reason he was able to become only the second rookie in team history to reach 300 passing yards in a game (Nick Foles is the other).

“It was so much fun,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Those are the kinds of plays you can’t design. It’s players making plays. … Sproles did his thing and wiggled down there, and it was fun to watch.”

That’s what Agholor should have done. Just watch.

"I was trying to chase him down and almost pulled my hamstring," Agholor said. 

"You see those moves he put on them? Pffft. And DGB (Dorial Green-Beckham) ran downfield — that downfield block. Think about that. We were having a lot of fun tonight man, and I'm very happy about that."

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