You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

You Picked a Fine Time to Get Good, Sixers

It's official—this season is last season in reverse. Instead of starting
out weirdly red hot and gradually cooling off over the course of their
season until they hit super rock bottom, they're gonna start from
super-rock-bottom this time and get weirdly red hot at year's end. Going
in this direction is certainly more perplexing than the way things went
down last season, and possibly even more frustrating, but it's arguably
much less cruel, since at least it's too far late in the year for this
team for trick us into thinking they can win a division or challenge the
Heat or something.


The Sixers beat the Blazers last night at the WFC, thus making it
three wins out of four for the Ballers in their recent homestand, with
the fourth game being a narrow loss against the Heat that really should
count as a win because c'mon. Considering the three wins were all
against decent-to-very-good opponents, and considering the Sixers had
lost 12 of 13 prior, this is a pretty remarkable stretch, and almost
certainly the best that the Sixers have played all season. Of course,
this comes amidst the news that Andrew Bynum will not play a minute for
the Sixers this year, and amidst the obvious realization that the only
thing wins can do for the Sixers at this point is hurt their draft
position. Of course.


Some things about this stretch are explicable, and encouraging. Jrue
Holiday has come back to life, back to reality over the last four
games, averaging nearly 23 a game on 50% shooting over the last four
games, along with nine assists, five boards and just two turnovers per
game–the All-Star numbers he was putting up before going ice-cold on the
Sixers' most recent road trip. Thaddeus Young has also been a monster
over this stretch, averaging 18 and about nine boards, while shooting
over 60% from the field. When the Sixers' two best players play this
well, they're gonna win games, so in that sense this is logical and good
to see.


Other things about this stretch are less explicable, and just kinda
disconcerting. Spencer Hawes, after spending much of the first
three-quarters of this season proving why he is an abysmal player not to
be trusted under any circumstances, has gone absolutely hogwild since
returning to the Wells Fargo Center, averaging 16.5 points, 11 boards,
five assists, and nearly three blocks a game over those four games,
including of course that near-quadruple-double he posted against the
Pacers on Saturday. Sixer fans should just be thankful Spence isn't
heading into free agency this off-season, otherwise they'd be so
effusive over this stretch they'd sign him to a five-year max deal out
of sheer gratitude. They might still try to do it anyway.


Even weirder has been the emergence of Damien Wilkins. 33-year-old
journeymen who haven't played more than 20 minutes a game for a team in
half a decade and were never all that good to begin with aren't supposed
to "emerge"—they're supposed to kill time, suck up minutes without
totally sabotaging the team while the actually good players get some
rest or recover from injury or whatever. But there's no denying
it—Wilkins has been really good these last four games, and really even
longer than that, as he's scored in double figures in six of his last
seven games, after only doing so twice in the entire season prior to
that. Even more stupefying, Wilkins has been a secondary playmaker for
the Sixers, too, racking up five or more assists in three of his last
five games.


And while all this is happening, the guy who the Sixers drafted with
the #2 pick a couple years back, expecting him to lead the franchise
back out of the darkness, has been mildly effective at best. Evan has
averaged just 11 a game over the four-game stretch, shooting 38% and
only averaging four boards and about four assists a game to go with it.
Over hot Sixers stretches past, Evan has often been a primary catalyst,
but this time the Sixers are playing well more in spite of him than
because of him. Just another confounding factor of another ridiculous
subplot to this miserable Sixers season.


So what to take away from all of this? Is there anything good to
come of this? Are we sacrificing precious tanking losses for no real
reason? Well, my gut reaction to those three questions are "not much,"
"not really" and "probably." The Sixers probably weren't quite as bad on
the whole as they looked over that 1-12 stretch, and this is probably
just some overdue course correction, assisted by Thad finally getting
healthy, Dorell Wright finally hitting some shots, and Doug Collins
making some game-planning adjustments that result in the big-man
long-two at long last being phased out of the Sixers' offensive attack a
little. You could argue that proving that the team isn't total garbage
might help us in free agency a little, but if we're really giving Al
Jefferson or Josh Smith that much of a hard sell, we're probably in
pretty bad shape anyway.


Anyway, there is one major caveat to all of this: All four games in
the Sixers' recent resurgence have come at home. Despite that abysmal
home loss to the Magic that seemed to be the lug nuts falling off on the
Sixers' entire season, the team's actually been half-decent at the WFC
all season, now boasting a 20-17 record in their home building. It's the
road that's really proven the undoing of the Liberty Ballers this year,
with a 6-23 record (including 13 straight losses) away from Philly, and
it's the road to which they'll soon return, playing their next four
(and 12 of their last 16) as visitors. If there's any kind of flimsiness
to the Sixers' current hotness—and considering the names of some of the
players involved, you have to believe there is—it'll be exposed on the
road for sure.


Speaking of which, Philly plays the Clippers tomorrow night. Do we
want the Sixers to win, somehow? At this point, I think most of us just
want the season to be over.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).