Jimmy Rollins: “I’m not disappointed at all.”

Jimmy Rollins: “I’m not disappointed at all.”

The Phillies celebrated the final day of June by falling a season-worst 9.5 games back of first place in the NL East after dropping a four-game series 3-1 to the equally woeful Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. The trade deadline is now just weeks away, which means the team is almost out of time to convince Ruben Amaro Jr. he shouldn’t start selling off some of their assets.

But hey, no sweat, right? The Phils still got this. The Dodgers had their number, but I’m sure when the Fightins roll into PNC Park for three on Tuesday they’ll handle the Pirates, even if Pittsburgh does have the best record in baseball. (Seriously, it’s true.)

What? Not quite the right tone? Doesn’t quite convey the urgency of the situation?

Oh, I’m sorry. Just taking a cue from Jimmy Rollins, who is trying to stay cool, keep an even keel, spreading the positive vibe. Only there is being upbeat, and then there is plain delusional. Rollins’ confidence in the Phillies wasn’t the least bit shaken by another loss in LA, and as a result, falling further behind in the standings. I mean, we haven’t even made it to the All-Star break!

Enough with the laying it on thick. Here are J-Roll’s remarks before a long plane ride back to the east coast:

“No,” he said. “I’m not disappointed at all. This series could have been 3-1 in either direction or 2-2. They played a little better. They got the job done and that’s all that matters.”

...

“It’s a journey,” he said. “You jump on that plane and enjoy the ride. As long as that plane is in the air, you have a chance to do something. Last I checked, we haven’t made it to the All-Star break. We’ve been in tougher positions with much less time.”

Long-time readers probably know I’m not the hang-on-every-word type when it comes to athlete comments. Their goal is usually not to say anything interesting, so you kind of expect Jimmy to respond with the typical The locker room still believes stuff. Frankly, they should still believe in themselves.

But when I heard that, for some reason I felt like asking one of the traveling writers to grab Jimmy by the shoulders and give him a good shake. You’re not disappointed AT ALL about losing a series to stay five games below .500 as we head into July?! There’s a huge difference between not panicking and not being realistic.

Whether they realize it or don’t, we can all see the Phillies are in trouble. Their record is 8-14 over the last 22 games, and potentially franchise-altering decisions are on the horizon. We like J-Roll, and realize at the heart of what he’s saying there is wisdom – that until you are mathematically eliminated, you play ‘em out and see what happens.

All the same, a little desperation probably couldn’t hurt, either. Hell, let’s start small. Just be upset when you lose. Everybody else is.

>> Phillies hit new low in loss to Dodgers [CSN]

UPDATE: Now with video:

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

No splashes, but Phillies significantly upgraded lineup this offseason

The addition of outfielder Michael Saunders doesn't suddenly make the Phillies an NL contender, but coupled with the trade for Howie Kendrick, the Phils' projected lineup is much deeper and more well-rounded than it was at this time last year.

By adding two capable corner outfield bats, the lineup has been lengthened, and it's unlikely you'll see someone like Freddy Galvis in the five-hole much in 2017.

The Saunders signing is not yet official, but assuming it goes through, the Phils' lineup could look like this on opening day:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (S)
2. Howie Kendrick, LF 
3. Odubel Herrera, CF (L)
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF (L)
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS (S)

Considering the Phillies started Cedric Hunter and Peter Bourjos in the outfield corners last opening day, this is a huge upgrade even if Kendrick and Saunders are not huge names. 

Phillies leftfielders hit .212/.284/.332 last season. Unless Kendrick forgets how to hit overnight, he won't come close to those numbers. Phillies rightfielders had eight home runs in 637 plate appearances last season. Give Saunders that many PAs and you're likely looking at 27 to 30 homers.

Before last season, Kendrick hit between .279 and .322 every year from 2006 to 2015. Having a guy who can hit .290 with a .330-plus on-base percentage in the two-hole is a big deal, especially if he's hitting between Hernandez (.371 OBP last season) and Herrera (.361 OBP). You can foresee plenty of scenarios where, if that's the 1-2-3, Herrera comes up with runners on the corners in the first inning.

Saunders is another 20-plus home run bat. When you look through the Phillies' lineup, there are potentially five of those. Plus, don't sleep on the improvement Herrera made in that department last season, almost doubling his HR total from eight to 15.

The balance of left-handed and right-handed bats will make the Phillies more difficult to pitch to. It was important that the outfield bat they added was left-handed, because if not you'd be looking at an extremely right-handed heavy middle of the order.

Also, don't underestimate the impact of adding two veteran hitters who have had success in the majors. Franco could use all the additional advice he can get. Herrera, too, is at an impressionable age. Might Franco be less likely to give away an at-bat, as he did so many times in 2016, with someone like Kendrick there to greet him at the top step of the dugout? That question may sound silly, but the entire environment changes when you add a respected veteran leader to a clubhouse filled with kids.

This is not to say the Phillies will have a top-five offense in 2017. They'll still likely be toward the bottom-half or bottom-third of the National League, but as of right now this isn't the NL's worst lineup like it was for the majority of last season. The Reds and Padres have worse lineups, and you could add the Brewers and Pirates to that list if Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen are traded.

Pete Mackanin has called for more offense and more lineup flexibility and he's gotten it, even though it doesn't involve real star power. Kendrick's ability to also play first base and second base could allow Aaron Altherr to get some playing time in an outfield corner when Hernandez or Joseph sits. 

The only real casualty of the Saunders signing is Roman Quinn, who Mackanin confirmed Tuesday night would likely spend the year at Triple A. Quinn showed some flashes late last season and is an exciting player, but it would have been risky to rely on him as a starting outfielder in 2017 given he's never even reached 400 plate appearances in a season. 

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

Sixers' game vs. Rockets Jan. 27 moved to national TV

With the Sixers winning and Joel Embiid turning heads nationally, interest in Brett Brown's team continues to grow. So much so, apparently, that the Sixers' home game against the Rockets on Jan. 27 has been moved to ESPN.

The announcement that Sixers-Rockets would replace Bulls-Heat was made by the NBA Tuesday night. It will be the second Sixers game on national TV this season and they'll look for a better result than the 24-point loss in Minnesota on TNT Nov. 17.

The Sixers host the Rockets a night after the NBA announces the All-Star Game reserves. (Starters are named Jan. 19.) It seems likely at this point Embiid will have a spot on the Eastern Conference roster.

The Sixers have five games before then and all will be challenging: vs. Toronto, vs. Portland, at Atlanta, vs. Clippers, at Milwaukee. Add in Houston and those teams are a combined 151-101 (.599).

They will catch a break in one of those games by missing Clippers PG Chris Paul, who will miss six to eight weeks after having left thumb surgery.

The Rockets, at 32-12, are third in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Spurs and 4½ behind the Warriors. Houston is on pace to shatter some NBA three-point records under first-year head coach Mike D'Antoni, an assistant on Brown's Sixers staff last season.

The Rockets set the NBA record on Dec. 17 for threes made (24) and attempted (61) in a game. And this past Sunday, the Rockets and Nets tied the NBA record by attempting 88 threes.