Oh Well: Sixers Winning Streak Broken By Excusable Loss to Knicks

Oh Well: Sixers Winning Streak Broken By Excusable Loss to Knicks

Well, if you want to explain this one away, there's plenty of solid
excuses you can go with. No Spencer Hawes. Third game of a
back-to-back-to-back, fifth in six nights. Some weird calls from the
refs in the third, which jobbed the Sixers at both ends. Catching a hot
team at home whose shots were falling more than ours were. Indeed, the
Sixers' first loss in seven games was a forgivable one, one with some
legitimate positives to still be taken away from it.

But no doubt, it hurts. This would have been the best win of the Sixers'
season—finally, a winning team at full strength (well, minus Baron
Davis, but that's been true all season), and a divisoin rival no less,
for the Sixers to measure up against. We were pretty confident in their
chances, and despite being outscored 31-15 in the first, at a couple
points, it seemed like the Sixers might find a way to eke out a W in
this one anyway. But the Knicks were the stronger team tonight, and now,
the critics that never quite believed the Sixers were legit can point
to this game as evidence that the Sixers are just a pretty good team
that beats up on lackluster competition. Darn.

Ultimately, the thing that really made the difference in this game was
the Unibrow (justifiably) taking the night off for health reasons. The
Knicks already have more size than the Sixers can handle—absolutely
nobody on this team can guard Amar'e Stoudemire one-on-one—and being
down one big body really hurt, especially because Tony Battie can't
really play big minutes at this point in his career, and Nik Vucevic
looked a little out of his depth, going scoreless and getting torched on
D in what Coach Collins will invariably chalk up to being a "learning
experience" of his rookie year. Too often, the Sixers had to go small,
and the Knicks aren't really a great team to go small against.

Of course, the lack of size wasn't the only thing we missed about
Spencer—our offense also went borderline stagnant without him. A lot of
it was probably tired legs—the team was uncharacteristically sluggish on
the break, and a lot of shots were missed short—but the team also just
wasn't moving the ball all that well in the half-court, and scored only
ten assisted field goals the whole game. And our bench, who has buoyed
the team all year, got outplayed in the first half by Knicks scrubs Josh
Harrelson and and Toney Douglas. Evan Turner ended up having a nice
night after missing his first four shots, scoring a tied-for-team-high
16 with seven boards and a couple dimes, while Thaddeus Young turned it
on in the fourth and ended with 12 points, but Lou Williams had by far
his worst game of the seasons, scoring just two points on 1-6 shooting,
without the team's best foul-drawer earning a single trip to the line.

The latter was mostly attributable to some silent referee whistles in
the third, which were accompanied by a bizarre double-tech on 'Melo and
'Dre which looked like it should have gone solely on 'Melo, and a
clear-path foul on the Knicks that was turned to a loose ball foul for
no particular reason. But the Sixers did get some generous calls in the
fourth quarter, so you can't blame this one solely on the refs. The
Knicks just hit more shots than the Sixers did over the first
three-and-a-half quarters, and though the Sixers did an admirable job of
fighting back for the last seven-eight minutes—after Collins called a
timeout when the Knicks opened their lead to 78-61, the Knicks failed to
score another field goal all game—it just wasn't their night. Tough
rim-outs for Thaddeus and Elton in the final minute secured the Knicks
victory, and now the Sixers' lead in the Atlantic division is just one
game over the 6-4 Knicks.

Well, Friday's a new game, and the Sixers get the Wiz at home in what
should be as close to a gimme game as they'll see on their schedule this
year. Can't win 'em all, but at the end of the day, the Sixers are
still 7-3, and in third place in the Eastern Conference, a position they
should hopefully be fighting for all season. The Knicks got us this
time, hopefully we'll get 'em next time, and in the meantime, we'll try
to keep piling up blowout Ws against the inferior teams while the Knicks
get caught off guard by the Raptors and Bobcats. Hey, take solace in
the little things.

Jackie Robinson's historic Dodgers contract on display in Philadelphia

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Jackie Robinson's historic Dodgers contract on display in Philadelphia

A piece of modern baseball history will be on display in Philadelphia for the next couple of weeks.

The original contract Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947 that allowed him to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball will be featured at the National Constitution Center from May 26 until June 5.

Mikalai Kontilia, CEO of Collectors Cafe, the company loaning the contract to the Constitution Center, brought both the Dodgers document and the contract Robinson signed with the minor league Montreal Royals in October 1945 to The Comcast Network's Breakfast on Broad show on Tuesday morning.

"What's amazing is, these contracts, finally, after 60-some odd years, have been unearthed, discovered and the American people can finally see the Jackie Robinson contracts," Kontilia said.

The Dodgers contract plays an important role in American history, and not just in terms of sport. Many people point to then-Dodgers owner Branch Rickey signing Robinson as a starting point in the American civil rights movement.

Kontilia said a historic documentarian appraised the contracts at a value of $36 million.

For more on the contracts, check out the video above.

Photo credit of Robinson signing contract: DodgersNation.com.

Jim Schwartz on missing Fletcher Cox: 'He’ll catch up'

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Jim Schwartz on missing Fletcher Cox: 'He’ll catch up'

As the Eagles kicked off their second round of voluntary OTAs on Tuesday morning at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s best player was still MIA.
 
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is staying away from the team as he awaits a long-term contract extension for big money. He hasn’t been at any of the team’s voluntary workouts this spring and the first mandatory date isn’t until June 7.
 
As the Eagles install a new defense, how much is Cox missing?
 
“It’s voluntary, so you can only do so much,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday afternoon in a near-30-minute press conference. “Fletch was drafted in a scheme similar to this. He’ll catch up. But I’m sure there will be some carryover for him. I assume he’s a fast learner and I assume he’ll pick things up quickly.”
 
Without Cox on Tuesday, veteran free agent pickup Mike Martin worked with the first-team defense at tackle next to Bennie Logan. Last week, at the first open OTA practice, Taylor Hart filled in for Cox.
 
When asked if he has spoken with Cox since taking the job, Schwartz declined to comment, saying he prefers to keep private conversations with players private.
 
And by the third consecutive Cox question – this one about how Cox will eventually fit into his defense – the veteran NFL coach was ready to move on.
 
“Why don’t we do this: that’s probably enough Fletcher Cox speak,” Schwartz said. “Let’s just talk about the guys that are here. I really can’t comment on the guys that aren’t here. I haven’t had any experience with those guys. So anything I’d say would really be hypothetical, to tell you the truth.
 
“I did look, as the whole defensive staff did, we evaluated last year, what guys did. And he certainly had an impressive year last year. And we think that scheme-wise and technique-wise, what we’re going to do is going to fit him very well.”

Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

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Phillies-Tigers 5 things: Jeremy Hellickson's 2-strike changeup key

Phillies (25-20) at Tigers (22-22)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies actually lost a one-run game. 

Their six-game road trip started off with a 5-4 loss Monday night — which makes them 14-4 in one-run games — against a Tigers lineup that showed just how much power it has. Miguel Cabrera homered twice, and J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos added solo shots of their own. It was an all-around rough night for Phillies pitchers, but they have a chance to even the series tonight at Comerica Park.

Let's take a look at the matchup:

1. Keep 'em in the park
Comerica Park favors pitchers more than hitters, but the Tigers and Phillies made it look small on Monday, hitting a combined six home runs. Oddly enough, all were solo shots.

Jeremy Hellickson hopes tonight for more success than Vince Velasquez had Monday. Hellickson struggled with the home run ball earlier in the year, allowing nine in his first seven starts. He didn't allow one in either of his last two starts, but the Marlins and Reds aren't as loaded offensively as the Tigers.

Detroit has clicked at the plate over the last week, belting 17 home runs over its last six games. J.D. Martinez has three of them and Cabrera has five. With those two batting second and third, Hellickson needs to be sharp in the first inning. 

The opening frame has been a problem for Hellickson all season — his opponents have hit .289 with an .883 OPS, six doubles and a homer. His first-inning ERA is 7.00 this season and 5.75 over the last two.

2. Changes from Hellickson
He enters 4-2 with a 3.99 ERA. Over his last two starts, Hellickson's given up just two earned runs in 13 innings, putting 11 men on base and striking out 13. He's faced 57 batters since last allowing a home run for his longest homerless streak of the season.

What's been the biggest difference for Hellickson in his last two starts? He's turned to his changeup, his best pitch, more often with two strikes. In his first seven outings, Hellickson threw the changeup 18 percent of the time with two strikes. His last two starts, he's thrown it 48 percent of the time with two strikes. It's completely fooled the opposition, which is 0 for 17 with 11 strikeouts against Hellickson's changeup over that span.

Hellickson has by far the highest swing-and-miss rate of changeups in all of baseball with 57 in 184 pitches (31 percent).

Look for Hellickson to continue utilizing that pitch tonight. Here are some of the Tigers' numbers this season against right-handed changeups:

Cabrera: 1 for 11
Castellanos: 1 for 10
Justin Upton: 1 for 7
J.D. Martinez: 0 for 7

Current Tigers are 30 for 95 (.316) lifetime against Hellickson. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has done the most damage, going 8 for 25 with three doubles, three homers and five walks. Cabrera is 4 for 11 with a homer. Upton is 5 for 13 with two doubles and two homers.

3. Not the same Verlander
Now 33, Justin Verlander is not the same fireballer he was in his prime. In 2011, the year he won AL Cy Young and MVP, his fastball averaged 95 mph. This season, the pitch has averaged a career-low 92.1. 

Here's a look at the difference for Verlander's pitches the last three seasons compared to his peak of 2009 to 2012:

2009-12
Fastball: .254 opponents' batting average
Curveball: .152
Changeup: .196
Slider: .209

2014-present
Fastball: .263
Curveball: .248
Changeup: .275
Slider: .227

His pitches just haven't had the same life and bite as they once did. We've seen this happen to a number of former aces over the last few seasons: Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay. When the decline happens, it happens fast, especially for guys who pitch so many innings every year. It's not as drastic for some as it is for others. King Felix has been able to remain effective despite diminished velocity by mastering his offspeed pitches. That's something Lincecum, Cain and Sabathia have been unable to do.

Verlander is sort of in between. Since the start of 2014, he's 23-24 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 61 starts. He hasn't been horrible but hasn't been great either.

This season, Verlander is 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA. He's struck out 60 and walked 20 in 57 innings. He's on a roll entering tonight's game, having allowed just four runs over his last 22⅓ innings with 27 strikeouts.

Current Phillies have only 34 career at-bats against Verlander and 18 belong to David Lough. Ryan Howard and Andres Blanco are 0 for 3, Carlos Ruiz is 0 for 2 and Peter Bourjos is 1 for 8.

4. Franco breaking out?
Maikel Franco has had back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time since April 22-23, when he hit three home runs and drove in seven in the first two games of a series in Milwaukee.

Is he finally breaking out of his lengthy slump? Every time over the last few weeks that it's looked like it, he's followed with a few hitless games. 

Franco does appear to be seeing the ball better, though. He's walked just 11 times all season but four have come in his last seven games. In his last five, he's reached base nine times in 19 plate appearances with a double and a homer.

5. This and that
• Odubel Herrera, who was pulled from Monday's game for not hustling out a groundball, has followed an 0-for-11 skid by going 5 for 7 in his last two games. He's batting .335, and his .901 OPS is 10th among all NL outfielders, ahead of guys like Starling Marte, Hunter Pence, Andrew McCutchen, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Gonzalez.

• Herrera's five errors lead all MLB centerfielders. Nobody else has more than two.

• Colton Murray's soaking up three innings last night allowed David Hernandez, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez to rest despite Velasquez's recording just 12 outs. Hernandez has had two full days off. Getting these guys some rest will be crucial moving forward. Neris is on pace for 86 appearances, Gomez 83 and Hernandez 72. Last season, only one reliever in the majors (St. Louis' Kevin Siegrist) had 80-plus appearances.

• Tommy Joseph entered Monday 0 for 7 with four strikeouts against right-handed pitching, but he had a double and a homer off Mike Pelfrey. 

• Ryan Howard is 4 for 52 (.077) with 22 strikeouts over his last 18 games. His .156 batting average ranks last among 180 qualifying major-leaguers and his .226 OBP is 177th.