Phillies Hope to Break Franchise Win Record, Have Charlie Pass Gene on Final Night of Season

Phillies Hope to Break Franchise Win Record, Have Charlie Pass Gene on Final Night of Season

Game 162 is already here. It doesn't seem so long ago that we were shoveling snow, freezing our asses off and and clinging to every Twitpic of a Phillie with a palm tree in the background.

Now, 161 games later, we know the team's tremendous regular season will mean far less without some hardware at the end of October. Nevertheless, this group of Phillies has the opportunity to make history on the final night of the season.

Just a week ago, there was a general panic that the Phils had cost themselves a shot at the record books by playing the add-ons to their expanded roster for almost a week-straight following the clinch of their fifth consecutive NL East title.

But tonight, the club has the chance to set a new franchise record. A victory and sweep of the Braves would put them at 102 wins, a mark never before set by a Phillies team.

As if that isn't enough, just one more victory would also push manager Charlie Manuel ahead of Gene Mauch for the most wins ever by a Phillies manager.

Lineups, playoff scenarios, the pitching matchup, and a quick word on Charlie after the jump…

On Charlie Manuel
John Gonzalez put together a nice piece this morning recapping Manuel's tenure here in Philadelphia. Beginning with the manager's start as a throw-in in the Jim Thome acquisition (we kid…sort of), Gonzo takes us all the way through to Charlie's current status as one of the most revered coaches/managers in our city's history.

Manuel hasn't always been perfect. This website, for instance, has been tracking his every in-game strategic blunder since 2008.

But Charlie has had his finger on the pulse of this team in a way that possibly no other manager could. We may argue over the minutiae of which reliever to move to in the eighth or if he should have sat this guy on that day, but its nearly impossible to argue against his results.

The steward of five division titles and this town's first professional championship in 25 years, Charlie Manuel is about to become—with our apologies to the great Gene Mauch—the biggest winner in Phillies history.

Pitching Matchup
Doing his best to set records for his club and manager, Joe Blanton is scheduled to take the mound tonight for the Phillies. This will be Blanton's seventh start of the season, but just his second since returning from injury.

It is unknown how long Big Joe will be allowed to go; Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick and Antonio Bastardo are all expected to throw in an effort to keep the pitchers somewhat on schedule and to ease some concerns heading in to the postseason (see: Bastardo). In the event the game breaks in just the right way and Cole Hamels is credited with the win, the Phillies will become the first team since the 1972 Orioles to have three pitchers finish the season with at least 15 wins and an ERA under 3.00.

Fighting for the Braves' Wild Card hopes is Tim Hudson. Hudson is the owner of a 16-10 record over 32 starts, a 3.23 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. In his last start against the Phils, he allowed 4 earned on 6 hits in 6 innings of work.

Playoff Scenarios
The Atlanta Braves are currently tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Wild Card. All the history and records aside, this game could help to determine who the Phillies play in the NLDS.

A win against the Braves and a St. Louis victory over the Houston Astros would result in the Phillies hosting the Cards over the weekend and sending Ryan Howard to his hometown for Games 3 and (if necessary) 4. The reverse scenario would pit the Phillies in a first round matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Finally, should both Atlanta and St. Louis win or lose, they would be forced to break their tie in a one-game playoff. Then again, should the Braves win the Wild Card and the Diamondbacks tie the Brewers for the second best record in the NL, the Phillies would actually square off against Milwaukee.

Got all that? Good.

Rosters for Tonight's Ballgame
Charlie Manuel's 9/28 lineup:

Rollins SS, Utley 2B, Pence RF, Howard 1B, Mayberry Jr. CF, Ibanez LF, Polanco 3B, Ruiz C, Blanton P

And for the Braves:

Bourn CF, Prado LF, Jones 3B, Uggla 2B, Freeman 1B, McCann C, Diaz RF, Wilson SS, Hudson P

First pitch is scheduled for 7:05. See you post-game.

----------

In an unrelated Mets note, Jose Reyes was pulled from the ballgame Wednesday after reaching base in his first at bat. His BA currently sits at .3371. He has opted to sit down for the remainder of the afternoon in order to protect that average. Ted Williams frozen head is probably spinning its gra--uh, wherever it is.

To surpass him, Ryan Braun will need to go at least 3-4 tonight in order to win the NL Batting Title.

Jose Reyes—Sportsman of the Year. Leggoo Braaaunnn.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”