Show Goes On: Phillies in Big Apple for Three with Mets

Show Goes On: Phillies in Big Apple for Three with Mets

It will be easy to tune out the last-place Phillies during this July 4 holiday week, but Philadelphia still has a professional baseball team. They have uniforms and everything.

The Fightins begin a three-game series in New York on Tuesday night against the surprising Metropolitans. Considered by many to be also-rans before the season even got underway, the Mets are currently second in the NL East with a 43-37 record, 3.5 back of the Washington Nationals. They are also just 0.5 out of a Wild Card.

As we close in on the All-Star break, it would probably be fair to say the Mets are for real.

They certainly have had their way with the Phils this year, taking six of nine so far, including a sweep at Citizens Bank Park. The good guys pulled out a series win at Citi Field in their last meeting though.

New York features one of the most potent offenses in the league. Ranked third in runs scored, they don't mash a ton of home runs, or even bat for a high average. The Mets do draw a lot of walks however, with two of the NL leaders for bases on balls in their everyday lineup -- all-star 3B David Wright (3rd) and RF Lucas Duda (10th).

Of course, Wright can hit the cover off the ball too. Just named to his sixth All-Star Game, he's in among the league leaders in a slew of categories, notably batting average, on-base-percentage, slugging, runs scored, and runs batted in.

Keeping those guys off the base paths falls on Vance Worley (4-4, 2.92), but when he faced the Mets back on April 14, he issued a season-high four passes. That wasn't what hurt him so much though -- it was the long ball. Wright and Duda both went yard, as Worley surrendered four runs through six in a loss. The Phils were blanked 5-0.

Lifetime, Worley is 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA in seven appearances against the Mets. He's not fared well at Citi Field in particular, where he's 1-1 with a 6.30.

The Mets toss a young pitcher of their own. Lefty Jonathon Niese (6-3, 3.55) is becoming a dependable piece in a solid rotation. In the midst of his third full season in the big leagues, the 25 year old has faced the Phillies more than any team in his career, going 4-4 and 3.86 over 11 starts.

Niese has the upper-hand in 2012 as well, with a 1-0 record in three starts, but the Phils may be catching up with him. He was chased after five innings in each of the past two head-to-heads, a pair of no-decisions in May where he walked nine batters and sported a 5.40 ERA.

It's good news whenever you knock a Mets starter out of the game. They own the worst bullpen in Major League Baseball.

We're choosing John Mayberry for tonight's standout performer. In 22 at bats versus Niese, Mayberry is batting .318 with three bombs and seven RBI. He's batting eighth, so he may only see Niese twice -- but that might be plenty.

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.