Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

Waiting Out a Seller's Christmas in July

After spending most of the trade deadlines in our lifetimes wondering which average to above average Phillies might soon end up on a contending team, we've enjoyed the past few seasons on the receiving end. More than just the elation of learning that a specific need-filling ballplayer was on his way to PHL, there was the satisfaction of knowing why. The Phillies have recently been a team for which late July was spent preparing for October. In 2012, we're reminded that's not always a given. 
The Phillies officially became sellers after a weekend series sweep to the Braves, and despite experience to the contrary, the feeling of watching our guys' names show up rumored to be headed elsewhere is alien. On the table are regulars and role players who might better fill a need on a team with fewer of them to fill. Some are guys previously bought this time of year, including one who got to ride on a parade float. Others were brought here to get us back. 
By 4 PM today, a WFC or two could be gone. All eyes will be on Ruben Amaro Jr as we wait to evaluate how strongly he can play while holding a losing hand. 
Joe Blanton appeared to be the closest to gone on trade deadline eve, but talks had already hit several snags. The Baltimore Orioles are 6.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and trying to ward off a close pack in the wild card race. They could use an innings eater, and they set their sights on Blanton. His medicals have already been sent. However, the Phils and O's reportedly disagree on how much—if any—salary funding will have to come to Baltimore with him. More than just the cash holdup, Amaro is said to want infielder Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore's third best prospect. Jon Heyman has a source saying the O's are declining to include Schoop. Even if he was never part of a possible package, you can bet you'll read and hear that name again every time fans are unhappy with today's actual returns. 
Blanton's never been the flashiest player in red pinstripes, but his impact when the Phillies ascended to their glory season in 2008 will never be forgotten. At least I hope not. The Phils weren't yet a team built on aces, and Blanton is a good reminder of what we thought at the time was a nice deadline pickup and how our expectations have changed since. Who knew we'd be watching him circle the bases in an October game he'd go on to win? You can probably remember exactly where you were when he did. 
Another WFC who might have already played his last game as a Phillie is Shane Victorino. 
With free agency looming, Vic isn't having what he hoped would be his contract-year production at the plate. Still, more than a few teams are interested in adding the Gold Glove centerfielder/sparkplug with playoff experience. We'll talk more about Vic's tenure as a Phillie if he actually gets dealt, and you can bet it will be a fond sendoff. What kind of return can we hope comes in exchange for the Flyin Hawaiian who once hit a postseason grand slam off of CC Sabathia? The reports have lately been sparse with details, but we're not expecting to be blown away. Early this morning, it seems the Dodgers are a favorite to land his services if he's dealt, according to reports by CBS Sports. Seeing him in that uniform would definitely draw a double-take. 
Last year's trade deadline prize for the Phils was Hunter Pence. We found out he'd be coming to Philadelphia just hours after the Eagles shocked the NFL by acquiring Nnamdi Asomugha. I remember getting texts while at PPL Park for a Union match, then scrolling through twitter and seeing it explode with news that Pence was hugging his Astros teammates in the dugout, saying goodbye after being traded to Philadelphia. One year and one cover of Philadelphia Magazine later, Pence is among those rumored to be on the block today. If so, it is doubtful he'll fetch a return equalling the package that brought him here, which included Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. Ruben's asking price may be prohibitively high though, keeping Pence here at least until the winter market opens. 
Juan Pierre is getting attention as he keeps his batting average floating above .300. At 35, he'll cost less to acquire and pay for the rest of the season than the other Phillies' outfielders, though he could still be helpful for a team looking to add a bat at the top of the order. Utility man Ty Wigginton might be as attractive to a contender battling or insuring against multiple injuries as he was to the Phillies in the off-season. 
Cliff Lee appears unlikely to be dealt due to his $25 million annual salary, which when originally signed was labeled by some as Lee "taking less to play in Philly." Lee can also block a trade to 2/3 of the league (it is uncertain which teams are on the list), further limiting Ruben's options if indeed he wants to move him. In a losing Phillies season, Lee's salary is seen by some as an albatross to be shed, if possible, and the deal that previously sent Lee out of town is being remembered more vividly than the one that brought him here just before 2009's deadline day. Lee originally became a Phillie along with Ben Francisco in exchange for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp, and Lou Marson. He left town in December 2010 for JC Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies as the Phillies attempted to restock the cupboard. Both deals are solid examples of how hard it can be to judge talent before it nears MLB readiness. Despite a Lee trade having substantial barriers, part of his career destiny seems to be to change uniforms in a surprise move. If the Phillies are going to make a trade that lands them a valuable haul, he's the most likely piece to be headed the other way. Ken Rosenthal turned heads by mentioning Lee and other SP's in the same post as Justin Upton... Phillies Nation digs into the what-if
To date, dealing Major League talent for prospects hasn't been where Ruben Amaro Jr has made his name. Stocked with more cash than most opposing teams and a division-winning roster bearing few holes, he's shown his ability to add major pieces other clubs have made available. Prying away valuable prospects won't be as easy, and who knows if they even pan out. As we wait to hear which if any current Phillies will be shipped off in efforts toward bolstering the 2013-and-beyond rosters, we're hoping he can find a way to give us a makeshift Christmas in July and maybe even "win" at the table again. This year, it seems like a longshot. 
If not, we just hope he doesn't cave to a potential buyer's market and sell for the sake of selling. 

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

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Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.