Things That Happened Tonight: The Sixers Won a Playoff Series

Things That Happened Tonight: The Sixers Won a Playoff Series

Now that I've had to settle down and finally stopped cracking up—just
kidding, I'll be spending the rest of my life laughing about the last 30
seconds of this game—it's time to talk a little bit more about what
just happened. For those of you that didn't watch the game, here's the
30-second version: The Sixers led for most of the game, went bone-dry
late, relied on Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams to bail them out (they
didn't), went down three with a half-minute left, looked for all the
world like they would lose, made a bucket, fouled the right guy (he
missed two), and then.

And then.

OK, credit really must go to Andre Iguodala for taking the rebound and
running with it. Remember that overtime game in Denver where the Sixers
had a chance to win it in OT, and Jrue Holiday got the ball off a missed
free throw (or something) and thought Coach Collins would call a
timeout, except he didn't and he got confused and ended up turning the
ball over and the team lost? No confusion this time. 'Dre broke out and
went straight for the basket, forcing the Bulls to foul.

Great. Two at the line with a chance to tie it and send it to overtime.
Well, yeah, technically they could also win the game if 'Dre made
both—they were only down one and there were just 2.2 seconds left in the
game with no timeouts for the Bulls, so it would be hard for them to
score to take the lead back. But yeah, no, that wasn't gonna happen. You
could probably count the number of times on one hand that Andre
Iguodala (who shot 62% for the year) had made two of two from the line,
and absolutely zero of them were in anything resembling clutch
situations. (NBA statmaster John Schumann had his clutch FT shooting at a
stunning 7-18 for the season.)

Rather than debate whether or not 'Dre would be able to make both FTs,
my roommate and I debated which of the two he would miss. (We decided on
the first one.) When he hit that one, I did have a holy hell, what if he actually made the second one?
flight of fancy, but I dismissed it pretty quickly. I'd seen this movie
before, in that same previously mentioned Nuggets game, when Iguodala
missed one of two with the team down one to force OT. Still, in that
one, I'm pretty sure it was the first one he missed. What if he...?

And then, it happened. Swish. The Bulls were stunned, unsure of how to
even inbound the ball, as if they too had spent the entire regular
season wondering how a guy we once thought could grow into an elite wing
scorer could post a free throw percentage that would have been a
failing Phys Ed grade. CJ Watson jacked up a prayer that very nearly
went in—really, it was almost Devin Harris 2.0—and he came a couple
inches away from getting fouled in the process. But he missed. The
Sixers win. The Sixers are going to the second round of the playoffs.
The Sixers won a fucking playoff series. The 2012 Sixers. How about that?

It might sound like I'm excited about this—and I guess I am, at least a
little bit—but moreso I'm really just amused. Because let's be
honest—there's not a whole lot of pride to take in how the Sixers
performed this series. They beat a team that, even without its two best
players, might have still been a little bit better than they were, and
while that does register as an upset of some size and upsets are usually
pretty cool, they did so in such unconvincing fashion (minus the
still-awesome punch-in-the-mouth Game Two, which I might re-watch four
times instead of watching Philly's second-round series) that I can't
even feel all that happy about it.

After games two and three, which the Sixers won thanks to strong, gutsy
performances from their hopeful back-court pillars of the future, Jrue
Holiday and Evan Turner, it looked like Philly might actually be
building to something with this series. Nope—minus a couple nice moments
for Jrue in the second half of Game Four and the first half of Game
Six, the two were basically neutralized from there, and the Sixers won
Game Four on some lucky calls and a career scoring effort from Spencer
Hawes, and they won Game Six on...well, I'm still not really sure how
they won Game Six, but it wasn't because of anything even remotely
inspirational. In the end, it was 'Dre and Lou's team again. Same as it
ever was. 

If there's one reason to be ecstatic that the Sixers won tonight, it's
that it means that there doesn't have to be a Game Seven. Not only would
the chances be miniscule that the Sixers would win, the chances are
phenomenal that the game would have been unwatchable and soul-crushing
and momentum-destroying. Whatever happens to the Sixers from here, at
least they didn't blow this series in quasi-historical fashion–which
isn't something to build on either, but it's not a huge setback, which
is probably good. And nobody wants to watch another game of this series.
Maybe this was even subconsciously in the mind of John Lucas as he
passed to Omer Asik under the basket with less than ten seconds to go
for the Celtics.

So yeah, about that play. One of the incredible things about this
outcome is that, as Bill Simmons pointed out on Twitter, the entire
series basically hinged on a no-call on CJ Watson when Jrue Holiday
tried to foul him at half-court. If the zebras call that—and it looked
like a foul to me—81% free-throw shooter Watson goes to the line,
probably hits two and almost certainly hits one, and the Bulls likely
ice the series. Instead, Watson spotted Omer Asik under the basket,
concluded (inaccurately) that he had a look at a gimme bucket, and
passed him the ball, at which point Spencer Hawes executed a textbook
wrap-up foul, and instead of Watson and his 81% going to the line, it was
Asik and his 45%. He missed both, and suddenly the Sixers had life. And
they won. Because Andre Iguodala hit clutch free throws. (In case you
had forgotten and/or stopped laughing.)

Long as we're talking about it, though, there are two other things that I
think needed to fall into place for the Sixers to win this series.
First, the Bulls ran out of timeouts. If they had had even one more
timeout, to advance the ball to half-court with 2.2 seconds to play, you
have to think that they at least get a decent look, and given the
Sixers' record this season at closing out final possessions—anyone
remember that game in Minnesota?—I wouldn't have bet that they'd have
come up with a stop.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Sixers ran out of
timeouts. This shouldn't have been a good thing, but I firmly believe
that it was. If the Sixers had another timeout, they surely call it
after 'Dre boards the second Asik miss. Then, Collins draws up a play
that probably ends (as it always does) with someone taking and missing a
contested 25-foot three, and the Sixers lose. Instead, the shock of the
two Asik free throw misses and the Sixers' lack of timeouts created a
chaos that Andre Iguodala was smart enough to take advantage of, and the
Sixers were able to take the lead and win. A butterfly flaps its wings
in China and Lou Williams bricks a long two to send the Sixers to Game
Seven. Crazy stuff.

More on evaluating the Sixers' performances and predicting where they go
from here later, probably. But we're done with analysis for now.
Rather, I want you to go out and celebrate tonight. Not that the Sixers
won, not that we're heading for the second round, not because any of
this means anything for or about the team that we root for. Instead, you
should be celebrating that now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there must
be some kind of sports god out there. And he has a fuckin' wicked sense of humor.

The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

savannahguthrie-phanatic.jpg

The Phanatic scared the bejesus out of Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show

Perhaps the best thing about the Democratic National Convention descending upon the city of Philadelphia this week is the fact that the Phillie Phanatic can just pop up anywhere, at any given moment and scare the bejesus out of people.

That happened on the Today Show when Savannah Guthrie didn't see it coming.

That Carson Daly guy looked pretty spooked too while Al Roker is cool as a cucumber. Al knows.

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Roundtable: Which young player makes least sense for Phillies to trade?

Earlier this week, ESPN.com looked around baseball and came up with each team's most "untouchable" player. For contending teams, the untouchable player could have been a prospect — for example, Boston's representative was Yoan Moncada, a player who shouldn't be moved even in a win-now trade. Makes sense. He's the Red Sox version of J.P. Crawford.

But for selling teams, the focus was mainly on the 25-man roster. ESPN's David Schoenfield listed Aaron Nola as the Phillies' most untouchable player, despite the 4.75 ERA. 

I saw that and disagreed. Nola is a valuable piece, sure, and he's better and will be better than his current ERA indicates. But there are a couple players who should be regarded as even more untouchable than Nola. To see if this opinion was shared, I turned to three of my colleagues, all baseball people for Comcast SportsNet or CSNPhilly.com. (Only players currently on the Phils' 25-man roster were considered.)

Phillies insider Jim Salisbury — 3B Maikel Franco
I'm a believer in building around pitching and the idea that you can never have enough of it. But given the strides this team has made in adding what looks mostly like mid-rotation starting pitching depth — valuable but mid-rotation, nonetheless — and its continuing shortcomings on offense, I would make Maikel Franco my untouchable at this deadline.

He's had his ups and downs this season, but at 23, he is still a young, developing hitter with lots of upside. He leads the club in homers and RBIs while being a marked man in a lineup that provides little protection. Some of the adjustments he made after a difficult month of May suggest that he has the ability to improve his selectivity and that will speed his development.

The Phillies have been starving for a homegrown, middle-of-the-order, right-handed power bat almost from the time of Mike Schmidt, who, incidentally, sees MVP potential in Franco. Whether he stays at third, where he shows an excellent throwing arm and soft hands, or becomes an option at first base because of range concerns, Franco is an untouchable right now. 

Phillies Clubhouse producer Brian Brennan — CF Odubel Herrera
The Phillies have a wealth of talented young starting pitchers, so the guy I'd least want to part with is Odubel Herrera.
 
I think the potential is there for a perennial .850 OPS centerfielder who's a perfect fit at the top of a lineup. Herrera is on pace to score 90 runs this season without any consistent production elsewhere in the lineup. Once you add in J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams to pair with Herrera and Franco, you've got the makings of a dynamic top of the order for years to come. 

Herrera is currently fourth among MLB centerfielders in on-base percentage, behind only Mike Trout, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes. Herrera is younger than all of them.
 
Herrera could be the National League's version of Mookie Betts if everything breaks right. He needs to hit a lot more doubles to get there, but I think he has the ability to hit 30 to 35 doubles in a season. He's under team control for four more seasons and that's a guy I'd be very unwilling to trade.  

Phillies Pregame/Postgame Live host Marshall Harris — 3B Maikel Franco
For me it's Franco. You're not going anywhere in today's game without a good offense and Franco is a solid building block to that end.

I realize that he's having a worse offensive year this year compared to 2015. But his errors are down compared to a year ago as he's proving himself to be an above-average defender at the hot corner. The Phillies have a plethora of young rotation arms ready to go, while the same can't be said about third basemen in the MiLB pipeline.

Franco isn't arbitration-eligible until 2018 and won't hit free agency until the 2022 season. At age 23, he's exactly the type of player you want to build around going forward. Even if he's not the best player on this team when it contends again, why would you not want a 30-plus HR player somewhere in your lineup?

Corey Seidman — OK, I'll play devil's advocate, SP Vince Velasquez
My answer would be Franco, as well, but I might even put Vince Velasquez ahead of Nola in terms of untouchability.

I just see more upside in Velasquez. This has been an up-and-down season for the 24-year-old right-hander, but even after a bad run in late May and an injury, Velasquez is 8-2 with a 3.34 ERA in 17 starts. 

Velasquez ranks ninth among National League starters with a swinging strike rate of 11.6 percent, ahead of guys like Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Jacob deGrom. 

Velasquez has also struck out 27.2 percent of the batters he's faced, which is the eighth-highest strikeout rate in the NL. 

What's most impressive about Velasquez's ability to miss bats is that he usually does it without walking people. Even after walking eight batters in his last 13 innings, Velasquez has a K/BB ratio of 103 to 34 in 91⅔ innings this season. For his career, he has 161 K's and 55 walks, nearly a 3:1 ratio. 

If Velasquez can ever put it all together and find a way to get deeper into games consistently, he could be an ace or high-end No. 2 starter. He has more upside than Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin or Jake Thompson because he can pick up a strikeout at any time with that mid-90s fastball that has some late life and zip.

And if it turns out Velasquez never does put it all together, he could be a very good closer. That's what makes the Ken Giles trade so confusing. If the Astros so badly wanted a young, inexpensive fireballer in the back end of their bullpen, they could have simply converted Velasquez into a full-time reliever.

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

Future Phillies Report: Nick Williams reducing strikeout rate, still showing pop

An impressive year for the Phillies' farm system continued this week with the promotions of two of their second base prospects, Jesmuel Valentin and Scott Kingery. Valentin replaced Taylor Featherston at Triple A when Featherston took Andres Blanco's spot on the Phils' roster, and Kingery replaced Valentin at Double A.

Valentin is a former first-round pick and Kingery was the Phils' second-rounder in 2015. It's a good sign for the organization that even their second-tier prospects are advancing up the chain.

But in this last Future Phillies Report before the non-waiver trade deadline, let's take a look at how the Phils' most intriguing prospects have been performing lately.

OF Nick Williams (AAA)
Williams' call-up could be coming soon. He continues to hit, he continues to show power, and he's even reduced his strikeout rate lately.

Williams has punched out just nine times in his last 17 games, a span of 67 plate appearances. He has 90 K's on the season in 395 plate appearances, which really isn't that egregiously high of a strikeout rate. Still, the Phillies wanted to see less swing-and-miss from him and lately he's obliged.

Williams' power was slow to emerge this season as he was playing in the coldest conditions of his life, but things changed right around the second week of May. Over his last 70 games, Williams has hit .289 with a .489 slugging percentage, hitting 26 doubles, three triples and eight home runs. His run production has increased each month.

Defensively, Williams has been playing a lot of left field lately. It makes sense because that's the position he is most likely to play when he's called up to the majors. Odubel Herrera is in center field for the Phillies and Aaron Altherr will be the regular rightfielder the final two months. And so 15 of Williams' last 26 games have been in left field.

He has the defensive ability to play all three outfield spots, but Williams likes center field the most, saying the various routes a CF takes make him feel like more of an athlete than he does in the corner outfield. 

But it's his bat more than anything else that has gotten Williams this far in his pro career. He's knocking on the door to the majors and should be added to the 40-man roster soon.

SS J.P. Crawford (AAA)
Crawford has slowed a bit after a month-long hot streak, going 6 for 36, all singles, in his last 10 games. He's hitting .261/.336/.346 through 60 games at Triple A and .262/.360/.362 in 96 total games this season.

Defensively, Crawford has not been as sound over the last few weeks, committing six errors in his last 20 games after having just two in his first 40 at Triple A. 

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said earlier this week that it wasn't a consideration to bring up Crawford when Blanco got hurt. That may frustrate some Phillies fans, but there's just no need to rush him to the majors while he's not hitting. The Phils have to be confident that when they're ready to promote these guys — Crawford, Williams, Jake Thompson — that they're ready to hit the ground running and stick in The Show. So far, Crawford has held his own at Triple A but hasn't dominated. And that's no big deal considering he's 5.6 years younger than the average age in the International League.

Crawford could see some time with the Phils in September. But he's not going to be handed any sort of job just because he's long been considered a top prospect. The fact remains that at the minors' two highest levels, Crawford has hit .264/.357/.384. He's yet to truly break out the way most top-five prospects do. 

SP Jake Thompson (AAA)
Thompson wasn't going to stay perfect forever and his ridiculous run of four earned runs in 62⅓ innings ended in his last start Tuesday. Thompson gave up three runs in the first inning and five in five innings, but still got the win thanks to a big offensive night from the IronPigs.

Through 20 starts at Triple A, Thompson is 10-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. A good sign was that even in defeat, eight of 10 balls put into play against Thompson were groundballs. Over his last 10 starts, Thompson has a 1.20 ERA and a groundball rate of 51 percent. 

That one misstep will not change the Phillies' opinions about Thompson's readiness for a call-up. All that is standing in the way is Jeremy Hellickson, who could very well be traded by the Aug. 1 deadline. 

And even if Hellickson isn't dealt, it would not be at all surprising to see the Phillies go to a six-man rotation at some point in mid-to-late August to keep their young pitchers' innings in check. Aaron Nola is on pace for 167, which isn't too bad. But Jerad Eickhoff is on pace for 200, which is a bit much in his first full season. Vince Velasquez is on pace for 20 more innings than he's ever thrown.

CF Roman Quinn (AA)
Quinn is back on the field after missing seven weeks with an oblique injury. He began a rehab assignment Monday in the Gulf Coast League and went 2 for 6 with a walk, a steal and two runs in two games. 

The Phillies are hoping Quinn can stay healthy for the remainder of the season because this was another year in which he lost valuable at-bats. Quinn has never played in more than 88 games in a season, which must be frustrating for such a talented and versatile player. Quinn is a switch-hitter who has the best speed and CF defense in the Phillies' farm system and also has deceptive power. 

Look for him to play some winter ball to make up for some of that lost time. Quinn played 25 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2015. 

OF Mickey Moniak (GCL)
The Phillies' first overall pick has performed as advertised so far, hitting .321/.389/.429 in 95 plate appearances in Rookie ball. The Phillies saw Moniak as a high-floor, high-ceiling high school bat, saying that he was safer than many of the top college hitters available in the draft. 

He may never hit for power, but he's quickly translated his hit tool from the California HS circuit to the minors' lowest level.

C Jorge Alfaro (AA)
Alfaro had a four-hit night with three RBIs Wednesday to raise his season batting line to .295/.333/.480. It's been a great first year in the Phillies' system for the powerful catcher, who has proven he can stay on the field, playing pretty much every day since May 7.

Alfaro hasn't gotten as hot as he was to start the year, when he went 18 for 36 with six extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in his first eight games, but he's also avoided lengthy slumps. He's spent much of the season with a batting average hovering around .300, which is a good sign considering that tool is behind his raw power and arm. There seems to be a near consensus that Alfaro can, in a few years, be a catcher who controls the running game and hits 20 to 25 home runs. If he can do that with a high batting average as well, you'll be looking at one of the game's most valuable pieces.

Alfaro is already on the 40-man roster, so he could see some time in the majors in September even though he's yet to play at Triple A.

OF Dylan Cozens, 1B Rhys Hoskins (AA)
Hoskins has 29 homers and 92 RBIs. Cozens has 26 and 88. Both are going to reach 30 and 100, barring unforeseen circumstances. Those are the kind of numbers that get you noticed and promoted, even if you have glaring weaknesses, too.

For both players, that weakness is a penchant to swing and miss. Cozens has 124 K's in 376 at-bats, essentially one every three ABs. Hoskins' rate isn't quite as high — he's pretty much in line with Williams.

Hoskins is the older of the two and will be 24 next March. The expectation is that both will get invites to big-league camp, and if Hoskins really stands out, perhaps he battles with Tommy Joseph for everyday 1B duty next season. The Phils are going to want to see sooner rather than later what they have in Hoskins. If he's called up next season, he'd be the same age Joseph was when the Phils promoted him.

RHP Jimmy Cordero (AA)
The hard-throwing right-handed reliever acquired by the Phillies from the Blue Jays in last summer's Ben Revere trade was promoted to Double A Reading earlier this week after pitching eight games with High A Clearwater.

Cordero missed the first three months of the season with an arm injury but has made 11 appearances since July 1. He's shown some rust, allowing seven runs and walking seven in 13⅔ innings to go along with 12 strikeouts.

Because he is already on the 40-man roster like Alfaro, the Phils could take a look at Cordero in September even though he hasn't pitched much this season.

The Phillies have stockpiled a lot of prospects over the last two years and the often overlooked position group in all of that has been relief arms. With Cordero, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano (acquired with Valentin from the Dodgers for Roberto Hernandez in August 2014), the Phils are hoping to build a late relief corps that can rack up strikeouts. Arano has a 2.40 ERA with 68 K's in 60 innings this season at Clearwater.