No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

No Playoffs for Sixers: How Disappointed Should We Be?

During his infamous press conference meltdown after the home loss to the
Magic in late February, Doug Collins offered a fairly simple
explanation for downturn the Sixers had taken in the '12-'13 season. "We
made a huge deal and we have nobody playing a part of that deal,"
claimed Collins. "How many teams can give up Andre Iguodala,
Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic and have nothing in return playing?
That’s tough to overcome. That’s just the facts. I’m not looking for any
outs. That’s a fact."

This remark of Collins rubbed some people
the wrong way--especially as he went on to isolate Spencer Hawes'
production that night versus Nikola Vucevic, who grabbed 19 rebounds to
Spence's one--and some of those claimed that blaming injuries was a
cheap excuse for a coach who had simply lost his team. But really,
Collins was just stating the facts--the team had traded away its
most important player and its two best prospects, and also parted with
key players like Lou Williams and Elton Brand at least partly in
anticipation of making such a trade, and as of January 18th
(Richardson's last game as a Sixer before his season-ending knee
surgery), they were getting absolutely nothing in return. No coach,
regardless of command over his team, could overcome that without it
taking its toll on the team's win-loss record.

The Sixers dropped to six back of the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night
with their loss to the Miami Heat, with only six games to go and the
Bucks owning the tiebreaker between the teams--meaning that, officially,
the Sixers will be lottery-bound for the first time in Doug Collins'
three seasons in Philadelphia. It's a sad, but unsurprising way for the
season to end--despite residing in the #9 spot in the East standings for
most of the season, the Sixers haven't really been within striking
distance of the playoff picture since the All-Star break, and for a
while there it seemed a near-certainty the team would drop to the bottom
third of the standings.

One word is likely to appear in just about every story about the
Sixers' soon-ending season: Disappointing. This was supposed to be the
year we took the great leap forward, with an exciting, developing young
core (led by the recently acquired star big man Bynum) pushing the team
into the upper strata of the Eastern Conference, maybe getting a playoff
series win that wasn't injury-assisted, and maybe even winning a game
or two against those damn Miami Heat at some point. It didn't happen,
obviously, and now a team that once seemed like one of the rising teams
in the league goes into the off-season with far more questions than
answers.

Injuries are obviously the primary culprit here, since Richardson
missed more than half season after starting off the year very
promisingly, and of course Bynum never played a minute for the Liberty
Ballers. But even with the injuries, should we still be disappointed
that the team didn't at least make the playoffs? After all, we still
have much of the same core that pushed the Celtics to seven games in the
Conference Semi-Finals last year. We signed veterans that were supposed
to patch some of the holes left by Lou Williams and Elton Brand. And we
did benefit this year from a next-level jump from Jrue Holiday and a
big step up from Thaddeus Young, So could this team have pushed for the
playoffs, even without Bynum and J-Rich contributing anything?

My gut reaction is to say no. We knew we'd miss Andre Iguodala on
defense, but I wasn't really prepared for the way losing him and Lou
Williams would affect our offense as well--without their athleticism and
transition play, we lost a lot of the running element that had made up
our offensive identity the last few years, as the team dropped out of
the top ten in fast break points for the first time since 2006. And of
course, there was the lack of free-throw shooting--Sweet Lou and 'Dre
were far and away #1 and #2 on our team last year at getting to the
line, for a team that already was getting there at a historically low
rate. Without them, only this year's Orlando Magic are saving us from
holding the all-time record for fewest free throws shot in a season.
Without those easy points on the break and at the line, the team has
been a bottom-five offense pretty much all season.

Inconsistency was probably always going to get this team in the end,
as well. Only Thad and maybe Jrue---and you could probably throw J-Rich
in there when he was healthy at season's start--could be relied upon
night-in, night-out to produce for the team, with players like Evan
Turner, Spencer Hawes, Nick Young and even Dorell Wright alternating
extended hot streaks with long, long stretches of going in the tank.
Your team can survive having one or two key guys like that, but when
your team consists of too many of them, it can lead to disaster when a
couple of them start slumping for weeks at the same time, as happened to
the Sixers in early 2013, when they lost 10 of their first 14 games of
the year and basically fell out of post-season consideration.

And of course, let's not forget that we didn't exactly have a huge
margin for error last season. The team's surprisingly hot start and even
more surprising (though hardly unqualified) playoff success last year
belied their final regular season record, which was a middling
35-31--they finished as the #8 seed, and looked for a couple of weeks
like they might drop out of the playoffs altogether in favor of an
improving Bucks team that eventually finished four games out. When you
consider that all the front office basically did with that roster was to
subtract from it--of the newcomers on the team, only Dorell Wright has
had any kind of sustained positive impact, and he's not exactly a huge
difference-maker--it's hardly a shock that the team isn't making the
post-season this year.

So no, when you assume the massive losses to injury, I don't think
you can really call it a disappointment that the Sixers aren't making
the playoffs this year. But that said, the real disappointment for
Sixers fans isn't even about this season--it's about the next five, and
beyond. We believed, possibly naively, that Andrew Bynum could become a
foundation piece for this team for the next half-decade, someone for the
Sixers to build around, but now it looks entirely likely that he'll
never play a game for the Sixers, leaving the team confused,
directionless, and just kind of stuck. That's a far bitterer pill to
swallow than not being able to watch this Sixers team play basketball in
May.

There's a ton of important decisions to be made with this team in
the off-season that will dictate the path of this team for seasons to
come, and we'll talk a lot about them in the weeks to come--for better
or worse, it's all we're going to have to talk about soon enough.
But for 2012-13, it was basically over for the Sixers before it even
began. This season was one long succumbing to the inevitable, and as
depressing as that is, it's hard to really call it all that
disappointing.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).