On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

A few weeks back on Lunch Break, Rhea Hughes asked me if the Phillies had hit rock bottom, to which I responded with something to the effect of No way. Clearly I was waiting for them to get swept out of Miami by a free-falling Marlins club as the 2012 season reached its midpoint before making that declaration.

We've arrived. In case you haven't been beaten over the head with the standings enough already, this is where the Phils stand after their most recent debacle: five-game losing streak; 3-7 over their last ten; 9-19 for the month of June; nine games under .500; 7.5 back of a Wild Card, eight teams ahead; 11.0 back in the NL East, all alone in the basement; GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gauging interest in a potential Cole Hamels trade.

Does it get any worse?

Well, yeah, it does -- just probably not for the Phillies, at least not any time soon. That's sort of the definition of rock bottom: no place left to go but up.

Which is not to say this year's squad will make a run at the postseason, or even start winning more games. On the contrary, while technically possible, even the most optimistic fan must concede the playoffs are in fact a longshot, and the remainder of this summer is likely futile. Not trying to be the earliest to call it -- and I certainly wasn't -- but what we've seen out of the previous half confirms suspicions dating back before the campaign ever got underway, that the road back to the World Series is not paved in pennants earned between '07 and '11.

Once you accept this is shaping up as a lost season though, you should be able to see beyond the miserable results to the sweet horizon. Other than their record, what has changed on the Phillies from nine months ago, when they were setting a franchise record with 102 wins? A few more miles on the odometers of a collection of classics, for sure, along with injuries that may very well leave behind shells of once-great players.

Still, back in February or March, most of us imagined this team would be in the hunt at the All-Star break regardless. They're really not, so I suppose congrats are in order if you called the Phils' out-and-out demise far earlier. However, the current state of the club, which we'll describe as a distant last place, was not quite mainstream thinking.

So if this truly is rock bottom, if missing the playoffs is now our expectation for this year, the worst is already over. Blame it on Amaro, blame it on Charlie Manuel, blame it on the freight train of sportswriters who supposedly forced management's hand on the moves they made. Out of the tournament is out of the tournament, and how many out doesn't count for much.

But how about next season?

The Phillies have so much talent, the general population allowed themselves to believe the team could withstand half the year without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and at least hang in the race. That obviously wasn't the case, especially as injuries continuously crippled them along the way, but it speaks to the bigger picture.

Somewhere beneath this 36-45 record is a core that can, and has, won a large number of ball games -- guys who are proven to have what it takes to deliver the hardware. Maybe a bunch of them have fallen out of their primes, but Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins -- contracts the Phils are likely stuck with -- have some form of production left in the tank. Put the right pieces around them, and they can be an integral part of something special.

And thanks to your overwhelming support, it's not like the front office doesn't have the money. Folks get the impression that because the organization is having trouble getting Hamels locked down, they either can't afford him or don't want to go over budget, when there is no indication that is the root problem. Heck, the expiring pacts of Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton alone almost covers it. Another year down the road, there are decisions to make on Utley and Roy Halladay, too. Between Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Kyle Kendrick... there's a lot of loose change under the Phillies' couch cushions. They can more or less sign who they want.

Even losing Hamels would not be the end of the world, it wouldn't even be rock bottom because you've been warned. Yesterday's report on Amaro calling would-be suitors is rock bottom -- now we're prepared when the day comes.

I'm not a proponent of trading away a World Series MVP, for reasons both performance-related and sentimental. Having said that, if it ever comes to pass, between the haul they would get in return, and the cash it frees up, the Phils should have no trouble landing on their feet. They would gain the financial flexibility to retool as early as this offseason, while simultaneously replenishing their farm system, or perhaps coming away with a player or players who could help immediately.

Based on the level of expectations, and the degree to which the Fightins have underachieved, the only way this could feel any more hopeless is if the franchise was headed back to the Dark Ages. Clearly they are not.

While there have been missteps along the way, there isn't a contract or contracts that are preventing them from winning, nor is there a prospect they've traded along the way yet who is coming back to haunt them. The Phillies have constructed a powerhouse franchise that is capable of putting a powerhouse product on the field in any given year. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than one awful season to undo that.

Today things are bleakest; tomorrow is a new day. The Phillies may not be able to salvage this season, but there are plenty of ways to fix this mess. With the resources that are available, how can they possibly make matters worse?

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

No. 24 Penn State at Purdue: Nittany Lions seek 1st road win

Penn State (5-2, 3-1) vs. Purdue (3-4, 1-3)
Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
Saturday, noon, ABC/ESPN2

Scouting Penn State
The Lions upended the Buckeyes, 24-21, when safety Marcus Allen blocked a field goal and cornerback Grant Haley returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 4:27 left in the game. The Lions, who rallied from a 21-7 deficit after three quarters, earned their third straight victory.

Allen and Haley were named Big Ten co-Special Teams Players of the Week, and linebacker Brandon Bell, who had a career-high 19 tackles in the game, earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Running back Saquon Barkley has rushed for 681 yards, fifth most in the Big Ten, and is tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with nine.

Scouting Purdue
Purdue fell to Nebraska last week in the debut of Boilermakers interim coach Gerad Parker, who replaced the fired Darrell Hazell on Oct. 16. Quarterback David Blough leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (2,065) and total offense (300.7 yards per game), and has thrown 14 touchdown passes (albeit with 11 interceptions).

The Boilermakers are, however, last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (120.3), total defense (441.0), turnover margin (minus-8) and red-zone offense (15 for 23, 11 touchdowns) and next to last in rushing defense (249.0) and passing efficiency.

The Lions lead 13-3-1 and have won the last seven meetings, the most recent a 45-21 victory in 2013.

Storyline to watch
This is the ultimate trap game for PSU, and the Lions’ approach to it will say a lot about their leadership and maturity. They have also dropped their last four road games dating back to last season, including both this fall. Their last victory away from home came last Oct. 24, against Maryland in Baltimore.

What’s at stake
The Lions can become bowl-eligible with a victory.

Penn State 35, Purdue 21

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.