Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

We are at the point in the 2012 baseball season where if nothing else it's fair to characterize the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series as improbable. Technically it could happen, and this site isn't the type to promote the abandonment of hope. We simply state for the record that the club is in the hole, and the reasons to believe they can still crawl out of it are dwindling as summer begins.

Chase Utley returning should provide a shot in the arm, as should Roy Halladay -- Ryan Howard on the other hand is a little less certain. Any notion he become The Big Piece the moment he step into the batter's box seems misplaced. His presence couldn't hurt either, but you are still relying on the rest of the roster to stay healthy at least, in many cases increase production as well.

I suspect none of the above registers as earth shattering to most observers. It's merely an attempt at establishing the common ground for what we all are watching unfold.

The reactions to which have been extraordinarily diverse.

There are no shortage of people willing to declare the Phils' season over, and plenty of them are quick to play the blame game. Ruben Amaro lives squarely in the crosshairs of the public these days, as general managers often do when the teams they run disappoint. Others might accuse critics of revisionist history, but fact is everybody's job comes up for review.

Defensive fans detect the overtone in that message though, and would contend in spite of having a poor season, times have never been better for the Fightins overall. After decades filled primarily with frustration, it's difficult to interpret the whining as anything beyond being a part of a bandwagon mentality. Apparently we should be thankful we've experienced good teams at all.

So who is in the right: is it the smug cynics climbing the sinking Titanic like rats, or the self-proclaimed flag bearers of the Phillies franchise?

In all honesty, what would you even have the organization do about this mess right now?

The season started on April 5, and this is the team the Phillies brought to the dance. Players can come back from injuries, but more could hit the disabled list just as fast. There are only two more directions for them to go that are guaranteed to impact the locker room this year.

Number one would be fire Charlie Manuel. It's not an original idea, and while Cholly is an oddball, all things considered it is hard to blame him for the position the squad is in given the circumstances. Manuel's neck will be on the line sooner or later, but since he's only the most successful manager in Phillies history, he's earned a longer leash than most.

Number two, I guess, is make trades, and there are a couple of problems with this. For one, it's hard to pull off big moves this time of year because a lot of front offices aren't sure whether they are buyers or sellers yet -- more than ever with the addition of a second wild card. Regardless, it ain't easy to measure what that accomplishes, unless it's only in the vain hopes of catapulting the Phils into contention this season.

In which case, you're not searching for a trade. What you want is a magic cure-all.

I'm not sure where the Phillies go from here, but it looks like a bumpy road to the postseason, and the path fades on the way to the World Series. My suggestion is you adjust your compasses accordingly. These Phillies may have a few tricks left up their sleeve, but nothing short of a complete reversal of fortune is going to push them over the top.

But you know what? After five consecutive NL East Championships, a parade, and a measured push for more, they deserve a slight reprieve. And as bad as things are or look, the team still has several elements working in their favor: they have talent, and they are willing to acquire more.

My advice is to everybody is take a deep breath, and accept this season is likely going nowhere. If they turn it around -- and rest assured they can -- that's amazing.

Otherwise, like it or not, the Phillies bought themselves a year to retool if need be. It's where they take us from here that should really decide some fates.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.