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)

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

CHICAGO — David Hernandez has great respect for what Tim Tebow did on the football field.

But as for Tebow's bid to become a major-league baseball player at age 29 after not having played the game since he was a junior in high school — well, Hernandez has some strong opinions.

The Phillies' relief pitcher first voiced them on Twitter when Tebow announced his intentions two weeks ago and echoed them when it was announced Tuesday that the former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback had scheduled a private showcase for major-league scouts to be held next week in Los Angeles. As a matter of curiosity and due diligence, the Phillies will have a scout peak in on Tebow's workout. As many as 20 other teams are expected to be on hand as well.

"I think it's ridiculous," Hernandez said of Tebow's bid to reach the majors. "Hats off to him for getting an opportunity, but I just don't think it's very plausible that he'll get anywhere.

"Nothing against him, but just from the standpoint that getting to the major leagues is a long grind. It's not easy. There's a lot of work that goes into it. 

"It's kind of a slap in the face for him to say, 'I think I'll grab my things and go play pro baseball.' It's not that easy."

Hernandez, 31, pitched in high school and college then spent more than four seasons in the minors before getting to the majors with Baltimore in 2009. Before signing with the Phillies last winter, he pitched for Arizona and survived Tommy John surgery. 

In other words, he's put in the time. He knows how difficult it is to make the climb to the majors.

So does catcher Cameron Rupp. He was recruited to play linebacker at Iowa, but baseball was his first love and playing in the majors his goal. He played three years for his home state Texas Longhorns before being selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2010 draft. 

Rupp laughed when he first heard of Tebow's intention. 

He remained skeptical when he heard Tebow had lined up a showcase.

"If that's what he wants to do — good luck," Rupp said. "Guys play a long time trying to get where we are. And those that are here are trying to stay here. Staying here is the tough part.

"High school is one thing. A lot of guys play high school and were good and get to pro ball and are overmatched. He's an athlete, no question. But you can't go 10 years without seeing live pitching and all of the sudden some guy is throwing 95 (mph). That will be a challenge. 

"I don't know if he thinks baseball is easy. It's not. It'll be interesting."

Bench coach Larry Bowa is a huge sports fan, loves football and loves what Tebow did on the field at the University of Florida. 

But Bowa has been in pro ball for 50 years. He played in the majors for 16 years and has managed and coached in the majors. Like Hernandez and Rupp, Bowa is skeptical about Tebow's chances and he wonders about the former quarterback's overall understanding of the challenge he faces.

"Whosever idea it is, they don't respect the game of baseball," Bowa said. "It's a hard game. You don't come in at age 28 or 29. I'm not saying he's not a good athlete, but this is a hard game and there are a lot of good athletes in pro ball that never get to the big leagues. 

"I don't think it can happen. There are guys 28 or 29 that are getting released everyday. How can you take 10 years off and all of the sudden be facing guys throwing 95, guys throwing sliders?"

Tebow did show some baseball tools as an outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease HS in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. He played three seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Jets but failed to stick. 

Clearly, he still has the competitiveness, desire and work ethic that he took to the gridiron. It's just difficult to see that ever getting him to the major leagues. 

But if he ever does ...

"Who knows, maybe I'll face him," critic David Hernandez said with a laugh. "Hopefully he doesn't hit a home run off me. That would be the ultimate comeback."

MLB Notes: Angels closer Huston Street has season-ending surgery

MLB Notes: Angels closer Huston Street has season-ending surgery

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Los Angeles Angels closer Huston Street has undergone season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Street had surgery to repair a torn meniscus Wednesday in his native Texas.

The surgery puts an end to the least impressive season of Street's 12-year career. The three-time All-Star is 3-2 with a career-low nine saves and a 6.45 ERA.

Street hasn't pitched since July 31. He missed significant playing time earlier this season with an oblique muscle injury.

Street is expected to be healthy for next season. He is under contract for $9 million in 2017.

He is the sixth player to undergo season-ending surgery for the Angels (52-73), who are on pace for their worst season in 23 years.

Nationals: Katie Ledecky to throw out 1st pitch
WASHINGTON -- Swimmer Katie Ledecky is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday night as the Washington Nationals host the Baltimore Orioles in game three of a four-game series.

The 19-year-old Bethesda native returned from the games in Rio with four golds and a silver medal. It will be the third time Ledecky has thrown out the first pitch at Nationals Park.

The Nationals have lost the first two games of the Beltway rivalry series.

Ledecky set world records in winning the 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle. She also won gold in the 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay, and silver in the 4x100m freestyle.

She will be a freshman at Stanford in the fall.

Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

Phillies beat writer promises to 'eat his shoe' if Tim Tebow ever plays in MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies are among the teams who will go give Tim Tebow a look during his baseball workout for roughly 20 MLB teams.

That's according to Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury who writes that the chances of Tebow making it to Major League Baseball as "extremely thin."

Then, when appearing on Philly Sports Talk on Tuesday evening, he tossed in the added bonus of shoe eating.

"I think this is more of a due dillegence thing just to say that you were there," Salisbury told Michael Barkann. "This guy hasn't played baseball in more than a decade. Before that it wasn't like he was a standout. He was more of a tools plalyer, a good athlete."

"If he ever plays a day in the big leagues I will eat my shoe," Salisbury said.

I think it's safe to say we are all pulling really hard for Timmy to make it now.