Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Oh, Nationals. Is your run at the top already over? Because that's really disappointing if it is.

For much of the season, Washington has been the leader of the pack in the NL East. They were in first place when they played the Phillies only two weeks ago, still had their death grip on it when we last checked the standings 10 days ago, but after spending 32 days on top, the Nats suddenly find themselves 1.5 back. What happened?

After beginning the season red hot, jumping out to a 14-4 record in April, Washington is playing sub-.500 baseball since, going 10-13 over their last 23. Not as easy as the Phillies made it look the last five seasons, is it?

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's status hasn't changed much. They may have made it back to .500 -- for now -- but they remain in last place, still spinning their wheels at five games back.

Dropping two of three to Boston didn't help their cause. Cole Hamels tied for the Major League lead in with his sixth win on Friday, but Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee got roughed up over the weekend, capping the Phils' win streak at six, and destroying their momentum.

The Fightins shouldn't require any extra motivation to dust themselves off for the Nationals though. A rivalry is brewing, and Washington is the first of six straight opponents currently sporting a winning record.

vs. Washington (24-17)

The Nationals' rotation continues to stand among the best in baseball, with a 15-10 won-loss, and a 2.77 ERA -- second best in the Majors. There's no easy draw in the group of five. The Phillies have the horses to match up, but the Nats' bullpen has been strong as well.

Their Achilles heel, if you'll forgive the expression, has been run support. Washington is tied for 11th in the NL with 3.78 runs per game. And what of the Bryce Harper effect? While he's been lighting the world on fire, and the offense hasn't experienced a slight boost overall, it hasn't been enough. In 21 games with the 19 year old in the lineup, the Nats are scoring an average 4.24, compared to 3.3 without.

Washington has been measurably better at home, with a 15-8 record at Nationals Park, while just 9-9 on the road.

@ St. Louis (22-19)

This is the Phillies' first meeting with the reigning World Champions since October's heartbreaking defeat. The Cardinals have led the Central division since Opening Day, but that might not be the case by the time the the Phils arrive in town. St. Louis has lost eight of ten, including three-game sweeps by the Braves and the Dodgers, and they're 6-11 over the last 17. As you can see, they currently own just half a game over the Reds.

It's difficult to explain what's happened to the Cards, who have the most productive offense in the National League, leading the league in home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. Suddenly they can't keep their opponents off the board, allowing six runs or more in nine of their last 10, and over 14 of their last 20. That only happened three times over the first 22 games.

Could be another slugfest for the Phillies, who allowed nine home runs in their series against the Red Sox -- eight by starting pitchers.

@ Mets (22-19)

This has revenge series written all over it. The Mets embarrassed the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park a week and a half ago when the bullpen entered a full-on meltdown. It's disappointing because all three games were there for the taking. Instead they were broomed out of their own building.

Meanwhile, New York's roller-coaster season continues. They left Philly winners of five straight, but are 3-6 since, and had lost four in a row before all of that. Offensively, the Mets have the bats to swing their way back into games, but the problem is they need to. Their pitching staff owns the second-worst ERA in the NL at 4.60, and their bullpen has overtaken the Fightins for the most awful group in baseball.

The Mets still own the Phillies in 2012 however, taking five of six -- all at CBP.

Due up: @ Miami (22-19), vs. LA Dodgers (28-13), @ Baltimore (27-15)

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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AP

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

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NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you spend billions of dollars to build it, they will come.

Three times over.

The NFL awarded Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, three cities that made significant financial investments in new stadiums or recently upgraded an existing one. Atlanta will host the game in 2019, followed by Miami (2020) and Los Angeles (2021), it was announced Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

"I think if they find guys like me that are willing to do it, I think they want to show them that it is worthwhile," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

Atlanta will host its third Super Bowl, but the first at its new $1.4 billion stadium which opens in 2017. The previous two were at the Georgia Dome.

Miami will have its record-setting 11th Super Bowl following a $450 million stadium renovation.

Los Angeles, which gets the relocated Rams this season, has not had a Super Bowl in the area since 1993 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game will be played at the new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, which opens in 2019.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans were also in the running to host a Super Bowl (see full story).

Steelers: Bell believes Bengals targeted him
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell considers the first injury of his NFL career -- a sprained foot in a preseason game three years ago -- a freak accident.

The last two? Not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict twisted Bell awkwardly as the two tumbled out of bounds just a few yards away from where Bell's 2014 season ended after taking a shot to the same knee from Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.

Burfict celebrated openly as Bell writhed in pain, a memory that lingers even after Burfict reached out on social media in March to express support as Bell worked his way through rehab.

"Obviously it looked like they were happy about it," Bell said. "I'll take the liberty of just thinking everybody plays just football to love the game. But people aren't out here playing like that. People are playing to take people out. Obviously I know that now" (see full story).

Cardinals: Fitzgerald not thinking beyond this season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald has been an Arizona Cardinal all 12 of his NFL seasons, breaking every franchise receiving record along the way.

Now, he enters the final year of a two-year, $22 million contract, and he said Tuesday that he doesn't even think about whether he will play football beyond this season, with the Cardinals or anyone else.

"We're just in OTAs right now, man," he said. "We've got training camp and minicamp and the regular season. We've got a long ways to go before that's even a point of discussion. So I'm enjoying this. I'm trying to make it the best year yet."

Fitzgerald will turn 33 before next season begins. And last season proved he remains one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

"I think Larry has a lot of tread left on the tire," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Obviously he's in the last year of his deal. That's out of my pay scale. But obviously I think he's still got juice in the system" (see full story).

Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

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Report: Sixers attend New York workout for Ingram, Murray, Maker

The Sixers are taking their talent evaluation on the road.

On Tuesday, members of the front office attended a workout for Excel Sports Management in New York, which included Brandon Ingram, the projected No. 1 or No. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Jamal Murray, a projected lottery pick, and Thon Maker, according to the Inquirer.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own facility, and it is common for teams to attend organized workouts for higher-rated prospects. Head coach Brett Brown, managing owner Josh Harris and vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley traveled to the session, but president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was in Toronto for his son's high school graduation, according to the report.

The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26th picks in the upcoming draft. The decision between one and two is widely considered to be between Ingram and Ben Simmons (see story). The Sixers have the assets on their roster to move up from Nos. 24 and 26 through a trade, which makes scouting prospects outside of the top two an integral part to their evaluation.

The team has worked out 12 players in Philadelphia and will continue to do so up until the draft on June 23.