Will the Phillies Finish Above or Below .500? The Cases for Each

Will the Phillies Finish Above or Below .500? The Cases for Each

Though obviously it'd be preferable to be a couple games over, I kinda dig that the Phils finished the nominal first half of the baseball season dead even in wins and losses. It's been that kind of season, really--up-and-down, with every positive development seemingly counter-balanced with a negative one and vice versa. For the ledger to be completely balanced come the All-Star Break seems almost too poetic for this bunch.

But where do we go from here? The slate is clean, but does that give the Phils a chance to finally spend some time in the black, or will it only be a couple of games before they're once again fighting to keep their head above water? Let's take a look at the evidence and circumstances and argue the cases for both directions over .500:

Over:

1. Doc's coming back (eventually). Remember Roy Halladay? He was a pretty good pitcher for the Blue Jays for a bunch of years, then did OK for the Phils his first couple seasons in Philly as well. But the Doctor has been out for most of the season with shoulder issues, and was obviously less than effective in his first handful of starts trying to pitch through them. Halladay only has to be league-average in his return (maybe sometime late August?) to provide the Phils with greater value than he did in the season's first half, and if he's anything close to 2011 Doc, he could be a bigger boon to the squad than anyone they pick up at the trade deadline.

2. Cole's rounding back into form. After spending the first half of the season as one of the league's biggest disappointments on the mound, racking up double-digit losses before anyone else and hovering around 5.00 in the ERA department, Colbert has started to look more himself in recent weeks. In three July starts, he's given up only four runs over 23 combined innings, striking out 19 and only walking one, generally looking more like the Cole of old than the guy who only won one of his first 12 outings. Cole getting back to consistent ace form helps turn starting pitching again into a strength of this ball club, and could be a big difference in win differential for this team down the stretch.

3. Chase is healthy. No guarantee that he'll stay this way, of course--nor that he'll even be on the team for the rest of the season--but having our best all-around player in the lineup every day is still tremendously key for the Phils, and something we weren't able to have for a month this season as he sat with an oblique injury. Getting to plug him in regularly, and avoiding delving into the Galvises and Hernandezes of the world for the time being, should be worth a couple wins over .500.

4. Jimmy and Chooch have to be better...right? Last year, Carlos Ruiz and Jimmy Rollins finished the season 1-2 on the Phillies roster (with Hunter Pence traded mid-season to San Fran) in homers, with 16 and 23, respectively. This year, both are being OUTSLUGGED BY BEN REVERE, who's never hit a home run in his entire friggin' career. Injury and age are certainly a factor with Chooch and Not-So-Young James, but you have to feel like both are gonna show a little more life over the season's second half, particularly Ruiz, who a year after being the Phils' best all around hitter, is currently slugging an unthinkable .291., with just three extra-base hits in 142 PAs. Any kind of increased contribution from those two mainstays of the Phillies lineup over the second half would be a gigantic help to their over-.500 efforts.

Under:

1. No Ryan Howard or Ben Revere for some time. Howard may not be impossible to replace, as callup Darin Ruf has done pretty OK (in extremely limited sample size) of filling in for the big man at first so far, though you have to worry about the league catching up to Babe and Howard's respected slugging reputation being missed over the time out with knee issues. Oddly, it's Revere who should be the truly irreplaceable cog in the Phils lineup, going down with foot surgery just as he'd become the top-of-the-lineup hit machine we'd always hoped we were getting from the Twins, hitting safely in his last ten games with a .422 average over the course of the streak. Without Revere for 6-8 weeks, it's a whole lot of John Mayberry Jr.--not the worst fate, but his speed in center certainly isn't the same, and at the plate we've had about three seasons' worth of evidence that less is really more with JMJ.

2. John Lannan and Jon Pettibone might not keep it up. Our veteran lefty pickup and our young righty callup have both been sneaky productive for the Phils in the fourth and fifth starter slots so far this season, combining for a 7-6 record and both posting ERAs under 4.00. But the warning signs for regression are there for both, neither posting a particularly great strikeout to walk ratio (Lannan's a little over 2:1, Pettibone's a little under) and both being somewhat limited in their exposure, neither starter averaging even six innings a game. Seems pretty likely that both will get hit around a little more in the second half--and possibly third starter Kyle Kendrick as well, whose cracks have also started to show a bit after a strong start to the season, giving up double-digit hits in three of his last six starts.

3. The trade deadline looms. Just try to find a trade deadline preview out there in which the Phillies are not the most frequently mentioned team. Unless the Phils win 10 of their first 12 coming out of the break, and possibly even if they do, the vultures will be circling looking to pick the team's bones, with offers coming in for Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Jonathan Paplebon, Michael Young, perhaps even Jimmy and Chooch if they start looking like half-decent pros again. One trade will likely lead to others, and before long, it could suddenly turn into a rebuilding year for the Fightins. It's a lot harder to win games with Tyler Cloyd starting, Freddy Galvis playing second and Antonio Bastardo closing, obvs.

4. Run differential says we should have been way under .500 all along. In case you haven't noticed on Yahoo! Sports' MLB Standings page, the Phils' run differential--the stat that subtracts the number of total runs allowed from the number of total runs scored by a team over the course of the season--has us at a pretty sucky -45. That's not just a sub-.500 run differential, it's the fourth-worst in the entire NL, 18 runs worse than even the woeful Mets. Teams who play above their run differentials tend to eventually regress to them, so gravity will not be on the Phillies' side this second half.

You know what? I'm betting they finish at .500 for the second straight season. It's the only thing that seems fitting with this team, and the only way that RAJ can continue to play it down the middle with this team, sorta rebuilding but also sorta keeping out hope that One Last Run with the team's core in tact can still be a possibility. Depressing, but also kinda beautiful.

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

Elton Brand on national anthem protests: Sixers working with NBA, having 'discussions internally'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Pockets of NBA players have increasingly started to speak up about what they believe to be racial and social injustices taking place in the United States.

With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem sparking protests from other players around the NFL and various sports, now the NBA as a whole is preparing for potential protests prior to games.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver and National Basketball Players Association union executive director Michele Roberts came together last week to formulate a joint letter to players to express how the two sides plan to take "meaningful action."

Whatever that action is, Sixers veteran Elton Brand is all for it and the overall discussion of issues going on around the country.

"There are e-mails and direct texts from the NBPA. We’re working with the NBA. They’re going to talk to us soon,” Brand said. “My thing is if you want to stand up for something, that’s a good thing. Especially in America, the tensions and the injustices that are going on right now. 

“Even in our locker room we’re discussing who feels like this, who feels like what and ways that we can display how we feel about things. I’m all for it. I stand behind it and stand with other athletes and people that want to stand for a cause. Whatever their cause is, they want to stand for a cause. Our cause may be different.”

The NBA is significantly more diverse than the NFL, and Brand even admitted it’s been an eye-opening experience having talks about issues affecting African Americans inside a locker room with players from around the globe.

“We have a lot of international players,” he said. “I’m looking around the room and there are seven people that aren’t from this country. So you talk about the flag, talk about the constitution and to them it’s like, ‘I represent America because I’m working here, but I’m pro-Spain and I have problems there, too.’ We’re all sorting it out. We’ve had discussions internally also. I’m looking forward to what the NBPA and the NBA have to offer."

What the league and players association come up with will likely serve as something other than protesting during the actual anthem. Unlike the NFL, the NBA has a rule in place that explicitly states players, coaches and trainers must stand on the foul line or sidelines in a dignified posture during the playing of national anthems.

If Sixers players do ultimately decide on some sort of protest before games, they will have the support of the organization to express their rights.

"We haven't been together collectively long enough to have a real robust discussion about it," Sixers president Bryan Colangelo said. "I think we just addressed it briefly this morning with the players in an opportunity to say the following. Basically, we as an organization are going to be supportive of the views of our players. As the league and the players association formulate perhaps an approach, they've already circulated some information to teams. Things are probably still at the discussion phase. I hope to think that's where things are with our players, that they're still at the discussion phase. 

"Once again, I'm assuming that there will be a desire to express an opinion or viewpoint. I've always been supportive of people in society having freedom to express a viewpoint. Again, going back to the league and the players association, in a positive way I think they've always been out in front of some of these social issues and if they can affect social change in a positive way they probably will. You can just anticipate that there's still some unknowns to this, but you can estimate that we will be supportive as an organization as to how our players want to express their views."

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

Joel Embiid expects to play in Sixers' preseason opener

CAMDEN, N.J. — The long wait could be over next week.

Joel Embiid expects to play in the Sixers' first preseason game Oct. 4 at UMass-Amherst against the Celtics, he said Monday at media day.

“The first thing for me is just get back on the court,” Embiid said of his expectations this season. “It looks like in a couple days I’m going to have the chance to do that.”

Embiid has missed the past two seasons since being drafted third overall because of foot injuries. Even though he is taking his rookie year one step at a time, he has a positive long-term outlook given how healthy he feels. 

“I’m confident that I’m going to have a long, successful career,” he said. “From what it looks like right now, I’m going to have a 20-year career.”

Embiid has grown as a player and a person during his recovery. He noted had he been competing in an 82-game season, he would not have had as much time to dedicate on his development. As a result of the specialized workouts and the hours he has spent in an individual practice format, he has improved his shooting and gained strength and speed. 

“What I was two years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” he said. “My game has gotten so much better ... I’m not the same guy. I’m different.”

Embiid has been following a well-mapped out rehab plan during which he has had to adhere to restrictions, and will continue to do so this season. He admits the restrictions have been frustrating, but he now understands they are being implemented for his best interest long term. The lengthy recovery has forced him to change his outlook on maintaining his health. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab, going through that, the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor [said] you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to what people have to say.”

Head coach Brett Brown wants Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense. Embiid, who stands at a towering 7-foot-2, 275 pounds, is ready to embrace those expectations. He has studied tape of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, among others. Embiid likes the game of Marc Gasol and appreciates how DeAndre Jordan communicates as a big man. 

“I love playing defense,” he said. “I hate when the other team scores.”

Embiid's debut will be the culmination of years of work. Now that the season is approaching, he is eager to count down the days. 

“I’m really excited,” Embiid said. “I’ve gone through a lot and it’s been two years. The fact that I’m healthy now and ready to get back on the court, I just can’t wait.”