Commence the Ownage: Sixers Rout Suns in Phoenix

Commence the Ownage: Sixers Rout Suns in Phoenix

You know what's fun? Winning by a lot against a bad team. Good of the
Sixers to remember this in advance of their game tonight against the
Phoenix Suns, who left little doubt that they are, in fact, one of the
league's bad teams now. After playing the Suns tight for about a
quarter, our second unit started to pull away in the beginning of the
second, and by halftime the game was already a laugher. The benches were
pretty much emptied by the fourth (Craig Brackins! Still no Marreese
Speights though, sadface) and the Sixers cruised to an easy 103-83
victory, bringing them to 1-1 for the season.

Watching the away broadcast on League Pass, the Suns' announcers spent a
long time harping on the Sixers' balanced offensive attack, and tonight
the fixation really was deserved. Despite breaking the century mark in
scoring, no one on the Liberty Ballers scored more than 15—Andre
Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday tied for the lead with that
tally—while three other players also broke double-digits, including Lou
Williams (13), Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner (12 each). It was the kind of
team ball we grew accustomed to seeing from the boys last year, and the
kind that should bode well for the Sixers' consistently over this crazy
strike-shortened season.

As predicted, Thad and Evan were big factors off the bench. The former
was distressingly off on his jumper—the part of his game he needs to add
to become a true offensive force in this league—but displayed his
typical wizardry around the basket, absolutely shredding Philly native
Hakim Warrick on one particularly shaming dunk. Meanwhile, Evan showed
that his mid-range game has become a fairly reliable weapon in his
second year, with that little ten-foot floater he's been showing off
recently starting to look something like a trademark move. He went 6-9
with seven rebounds, no assists but no turnovers either, picking up his
Phoenix-plaguing ways from where he left off last season.

And while Spencer Hawes didn't have quite the game he had on Monday—only
three assists this time, with four turnovers—he continued to show an
improved scoring touch (nine points on 4-7 shooting) and was again a
force on the glass, notching 11 boards in just 26 minutes of game
action. With Hawes' improved play and Nikola Vucevic looking decent off
the bench in his first NBA action (6 points on 3-6 shooting, a couple
boneheaded turnovers but some nice extra passes and good instincts in
the pick-and-roll), perhaps the center position won't be as much of a
black hole for the Sixers this year as we had feared. (Perhaps.)

Now, as we rejoice in celebration of the fine evening for the Sixers, we
should also take a moment to observe the sad state of affairs for the
Phoenix Suns in 2011-'12. After spending the better part of the decade
as the league's most innovative, entertaining team, it appears that this
is the end of the line for the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. All the key
players of yesteryear have been replaced with mediocre role players like
Channing Frye, Josh Childress and Ronnie Price, and the last remaining
holdout from the glory years, the inimitable Steve Nash, may finally be
seeing the downslope of his career. Tonight was the worst night of
basketball I've ever seen the Hall of Fame point guard have—four points
on 2-11 shooting, with one assist (!!!) and six turnovers, and not a
single memorable play the entire night. It's hard to say if Nash is just
going through the motions in a rebuilding year or if the guys around
him just suck that much, but it's a depressing sight for any NBA fan to
see the two-time MVP languishing like this.

But still, this is a Philly sports blog, and from a Philly standpoint,
tonight was a rip-roaring success. The Ballers head to Utah next for a
Friday night game, against another franchise in a state of flux. With
tonight's win bringing Coach Collins' record in Philadelphia back to a
42-42 state of stasis, it'd be nice to pick up the W in Salt Lake and
officially make Dougie's tenure in the City of Brother Love a winning
one. At the very least, it's nice to not have to wait until Game Five to
see the Sixers get a win this year.

Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Andres Blanco in to help avoid sweep vs. Cubs

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Today's Lineup: Tommy Joseph, Andres Blanco in to help avoid sweep vs. Cubs

Seeking to avoid being swept for the first time since their opening series in Cincinnati, the Phillies on Sunday afternoon will ask Tommy Joseph to provide a much needed spark.

Joseph, 24, sat out Saturday's 4-1 loss to the MLB-best Cubs with Chicago trotting out right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who crafted a five-hit, one-run complete game masterpiece.

It will be Joseph's fifth game against a righty this week, as manager Pete Mackanin's platoon at first base with Ryan Howard seemingly is coming to an end. Joseph will bat fifth.

With the Phillies averaging 3.22 runs per game, second-worst in baseball, and owning a run differential of minus-38, playing Joseph more is one of a few moves Mackanin can make.

Take into account Howard's average dipped to .154 after an 0 for 4, two-strikeout game Saturday, the decision to give Joseph more at-bats makes sense. It has for a while now.

Plus, Joseph has enjoyed success during his time up with the Phillies. The first baseman is hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs. He is, however, hitting just .211 with seven of his 10 strikeouts in 19 at-bats against righties. He'll face a good one in John Lackey (4-2, 3.32) on Sunday.

Mackanin has also decided to start Andres Blanco at second base against Chicago, which has proved to be too much for the Phils through the first two games. Blanco, 32, will bat third against Lackey, who he has never faced in his career. The utility man is hitting .281 with one long ball and eight RBIs in 35 games this season.

In other lineup news, the Cubs will start Villanova product Matt Szczur in left field in the series finale, giving Jorge Soler the day off. During his junior baseball season at 'Nova in 2010, Szczur took time off to donate bone marrow that helped saved a young girl in Ukraine. (Read more on Szczur here from CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury.) Szczur is hitting .375 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 40 at-bats this season with Chicago.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Andres Blanco, 2B
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Vince Velasquez, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Miguel Montero, C
7. Addison Russell, SS
8. Matt Szczur, LF
9. John Lackey, P

For more on today's game, read Steven Tyding's game notes.

Chase Utley owns the New York Mets, according to Wikipedia

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Chase Utley owns the New York Mets, according to Wikipedia

The New York Mets' majority owner, Fred Wilpon, has a reported net worth of $500 million.

But on Saturday night, the Mets were not owned by a suit who made their profits off real estate development.

No, the Mets were owned by former Phillies second baseman and current Los Angelers Dodger Chase Utley.

At least according to the Mets' Wikipedia page.

Utley, who has become one of the greatest villians in New York sports of recent memory, made his return to Citi Field this weekend after breaking Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada's leg with a hard, controversial slide into second base successfully breaking up a double play during the postseason. On Friday night, the 37-year-old delivered a three-run game-tying double in the ninth inning, athough the Dodgers fell to New York, 6-5, after Curtis Granderson hit a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.

But on Saturday night, Utley's legend grew even stronger in the Dodger's 9-1 win. Utley was thrown at — and missed — by Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who was subsequently ejected from the ballgame, in the third inning. In his next at-bat during a scoreless game, Utley took New York reliever Logan Verrett deep to give L.A. a 1-0 lead.

It gets better. Coming to bat with the bases loaded and a 2-0 lead in the seventh, Utley entered the batter's box serenaded with boos from the Mets' faithful only to hit a grand slam. You can watch it all right here.

Owning the Mets is nothing new for Utley, however. The second baseman has 33 home runs, 113 RBIs and a .283 average in his career against New York. We love Utley in Philadelphia because he plays the game hard, was a key member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series team and he kills the Mets. Remember this one from 2007?

What will Utley do as an encore on Sunday Night Baseball? We will all be watching because some of us won't be able to catch Game of Thrones live because we work.

Remember, no spoilers. And plus, Utley owning the Mets is a better storyline than any TV show can give us.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

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Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

Phillies (26-23) at Cubs (33-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies have lost back-to-back games to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and on Sunday afternoon, they'll look to salvage a victory in the series finale.

Here are five things to get you ready for the ballgame:

1. Avoiding a sweep
Phillies fans had losing shoved down their throats for long stretches last season. This season has been much different … at least until the last three series.

With Saturday's loss, the Phils have lost three consecutive series for the first time in 2016 and will look to avoid their first sweep since their opening series in Cincinnati. The 4-1 victory by the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth loss in five games. They haven't lost five of six since September 2015. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have won four straight games after losing eight of 12 games in mid-May. A win Sunday would give Chicago its fourth win streak of at least four games already in 2016. 

If that doesn't underline how tough a task the Phillies have ahead of them, Sunday's starter will do the trick.

2. Solving Lackey
John Lackey doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, but the veteran righty has been a consistent force in the Cubs' rotation. Coming over from the rival Cardinals in free agency, Lackey has a 4-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts in 2016.

However, the underlying numbers have been even better. He's completed six innings in all but one start and has seven quality starts. He has 61 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks and 45 hits in 61⅓ innings. 

Lackey has been a workhorse for the Cubs and has struck out at least five batters in each of his last four starts. 

The good news for Phillies fans? Despite Lackey's solid numbers, the Cubs have lost four of his nine starts.

3. Getting back on track
At 23 years old, it's tough to expect Vince Velasquez to be an ace all season, even if he may fill that role at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

So Velasquez's relatively minor struggles over his last few starts shouldn't worry fans as a sign of things to come. In Detroit, the flamethrowing righty could only complete four innings while giving up three home runs. While he struck out 10 and gave up no runs the start before against Miami, he failed to get past the fifth inning.

Those two starts came after consecutive outings where Velasquez gave up four runs in six innings. His last quality start came May 1, although it's tough to call his game against the Marlins anything but impressive.

While he's faced some strong lineups like the Mets and Nationals, the Cubs are a force Velasquez hasn't dealt with quite yet. He has no career numbers against the Cubs' probable starters, a group that has combined to be one of baseball's top offenses in 2016.

4. Who's on first?
Ryan Howard's final season in Philadelphia has been a grind to say the least. The veteran first baseman has just six hits in 58 at-bats in May and has just a .154 batting average this year. Howard's eight home runs have been a bright spot, but he doesn't have a homer since May 11.

Howard has three hits (two home runs) in 16 career at-bats against Lackey. But with right-handed first baseman Tommy Joseph excelling in his first big-league action, manager Pete Mackanin may turn to the rookie Sunday, as Howard tries to end his slump.

5. This and that
• Obubel Herrera is 3 for 4 in his only career appearances against Lackey. Maikel Franco is 2 for 3 against the righty.

• The Phillies are 3-0 in the final game of road trips this year … and 3-0 in the final game of homestands, too. 

• The Cubs have not swept the Phillies in Chicago since 1995.