Burrrrn: Sixers Get Absolutely Scorched By Heat In Game 2

Burrrrn: Sixers Get Absolutely Scorched By Heat In Game 2

29 points. That's what LeBron James managed in the Heat's victory last night over the Sixers, a much better performance than his Game One effort on Saturday. But much more concerningly, that's also what the Sixers' entire starting lineup for the Sixers managed combined, with Jrue Holiday being the only of the five to reach double digits. They also shot 11-35 and had as many turnovers as assists (10 each). Now, one of the Sixers' strengths all year has been our bench, but if our starting lineup is that awful, it doesn't matter if we have Julius Erving and Charles Barkley coming off the pine. Meanwhile, the Heat's big three went for 64 points—nearly pacing the Sixers' entire team—as the Heat cruised to an easy 94-73 victory.

After the Sixers missed so many shots at the rim and from close range on Saturday, I thought for sure things would be different this time around. It was different, all right—it was a whole lot worse, actually, as just about everyone on the team took turn missing layups and open jumpers in the first few quarters. (The team somehow went 0-11 for the game on shots from between three and nine feet, which is just....wow.) Thaddeus Young, so deadly in Game One, was the worst culprit this time around, leaving nearly everything that left his hands just a half-inch short. His performance in the box score looks all right—8-20 for 18, with six boards—but most of that 18 came in garbage time, and before that, he was missing hooks, finger-rolls and jumpers left and right, killing the Sixers' momentum (whatever momentum they had) and neutralizing the one legitimate threat that the team had against the Heat.

Defensively, the Sixers' performance was actually not terrible. Dwyane Wade, already suffering from a migraine, was more or less taken out of the game, shooting just 4-11 for 14 points and turning the ball over five times, and the Sixers did a good job of making the supporting cast take shots, where they only went 11-29 (and 2-12 from three). But LeBron was making crazy shots, and Bosh remained dangerously close to unstoppable, draining or banking nearly ever jumper he took, going 9-13 for 21 points. The parade to the free throw line the Heat took in game one was slowed this time out, but they still took 29 free throws, nine more than the Sixers, and converted relatively consistently, making 23 of them.

The one positive to take from this game (and believe me, there's only the one) is that for maybe the first time all year, Evan Turner looked like a legitimate threat at shooting guard. Not to say that this was his best game of the year—he's had better, certainly—but in terms of just playing the two-guard position, I can't remember a game where Evan looked better-suited to the role. It was simple, really—he caught, he shot, he made. Evan was 6-10 from the field, and all six makes were from 16 feet out or further, including three from behind the three-point line. Each time he had an open shot, he made it—a feat which would hardly land him in the MVP discussion, since that's sort of what two-guards are supposed to do, but it's something that Turner has struggled with doing consistently all season, as everyone claimed he was still learning to play without the ball. For him to convert like that, in a big game where absolutely no one else on the team was hitting anything—it's a good sign, no doubt.

So what now? Well, it's hard to point out obvious adjustments that the Sixers should make to counter this Heat team, since as no less an authority than Coach Collins himself pointed out, if they're not screwing themselves up, they're just way better than we are. "If they’re playing great, they’re a better team," Dougie admitted. "OK? If they’re playing on top of their game, they’re a better team. I mean, they won 58, we won 41. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t  going to play and compete and fight. But when they come out tonight and defend  the way they did … it’s going to be very difficult for us to beat them." Honest, but not terribly encouraging. The one adjustment I would maybe like to see the Sixers make for next game is to get more PT for Jodie Meeks, whose minutes were justifiably purloined by Evan Turner last night, but who could have done more good things for this team than Lou Williams, who has now shot a combined 4-18 in the series to date. What about a lineup of Evan, Jodie and 'Dre, with Evan playing the point? It's worth a shot, I think.

Of course, the Sixers might not have any choice but to get a little experimental for the two games in Philadelphia, as it's now fairly clear that this team is going to have a lot of trouble beating the Heat straight up. I'd appreciate it if there weren't any more games as embarrassing as this, but it's hard to act too surprised by last night's result—when the Heat are playing to the maximum of their potential, really, there's no reason why they shouldn't win every game against non-elite competition by at least 20 points. As Collins says, that doesn't mean we're supposed to close up shop games in advance, but it does continue to demonstrate just how far away the Sixers are from being on the Heat's level—and how, in all likelihood, they'll continue to be this far away, as long as management believes that building around expensive, miscast supporting players like Elton Brand and Andre Iguodala is the surest recipe for team success.

Game three from Philadelphia at 8:00 on Thursday. Hopefully we can still salvage a little dignity out of this mess, even if an actual W is looking like a little bit of a stretch at this point.

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

Versatile Brock Stassi making his pitch to win a spot on the Phillies’ roster

TAMPA -- When Phillies camp opened earlier this month, Brock Stassi was considering mentioning his ability to play the outfield to manager Pete Mackanin.

Though he’s played mostly first base during his six seasons in the Phillies' system, Stassi has been used occasionally in left field. He’s also played the position in winter ball in Latin America. Even going back to high school, Stassi played center field.

As it turned out, Stassi didn’t need to have that conversation with Mackanin. The manager actually approached the player early in camp and told him he planned to get him some time in the outfield as well as at first base.

Mackanin and the Phillies' front office value versatility and they want to have it on their bench. Stassi has come to his second big-league camp as a serious candidate to win a job on the bench. His left-handed bat -- which he showed off with a solo homer in Friday’s 9-4 Grapefruit League loss to the Yankees -- would be attractive to the Phils. So would his versatility.

And if the ability to play first base and outfield isn’t enough versatility, Stassi can actually offer something else.

He can pitch.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians drafted him as a pitcher after his junior year at the University of Nevada in 2010.

Stassi returned to school for his senior year in 2011 and was a two-way player. The Phillies selected him in the 33rd round of the draft that year as a hitter, even though on draft day there was some confusion.

“Initially, I was announced as a left-handed pitcher then they changed it to outfielder,” Stassi said. “Then I got to Williamsport (the Phillies’ New York-Penn League team) and had a first baseman’s mitt in my bag, and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go. You’re going to be playing first.’”

Stassi’s minor-league managers in the Phillies' system have always been aware of his pitching background. He has made nine pitching appearances during his time in pro ball, including four with Triple A Lehigh Valley last year. All were in relief in long extra-innings games.

“I got a win and a loss,” Stassi said.

He recalled the loss with a big laugh.

“I shook off Logan,” he said, referring to catcher Logan Moore, another candidate pushing for a spot on the Phillies’ bench. “I shook to the fastball against a lefty. It wasn’t the right move and Logan won’t let me forget that. The guy hit a triple. Then I got hit with a comeback one-hopper right on the butt. It was like a 14-inning game.”

Stassi throws a fastball, curveball and changeup.

“My fastball is like 84,” he said with a laugh.

Many position players in a big-league clubhouse were pitchers at some point in the baseball journey. Roman Quinn, who broke into pro ball as a shortstop and is now a centerfielder, was used as a closer in high school and hit 94 mph on the radar gun.

“I believe it,” Stassi said. “That guy’s got a cannon. I had to catch him when he was playing shortstop. He’d come charging in on a close play and he’d let one loose and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And even from the outfield he’s got a cannon.”

Stassi’s arm doesn’t bounce back the way it used to when he pitched in college.

“Every time I have to pitch now I’m hanging for like two weeks,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t grab the baseball and gut out an inning if Mackanin ever needed it.

“Hey, if that’s what it takes,” he said.

Figuring out the Phillies’ bench at this point of camp is a little like solving a Rubik’s Cube. There are many possible combinations. Infielder Andres Blanco is a sure thing and outfielder Aaron Altherr seems like a good bet. So does outfielder Chris Coghlan.

Andrew Knapp, Ryan Hanigan, Bryan Holaday and Moore are the candidates for backup catcher. Knapp can also play first base. And it’s not out of the question that the Phils would carry three catchers.

They could fill the perceived final spot on the bench with an infielder such as Pedro Florimon or another outfielder such as Daniel Nava, Andrew Pullin or Cameron Perkins. Or it could be Stassi, whose versatility is a plus.

“There’s a lot I like about Stassi,” Mackanin said.

Stassi comes from a baseball family. His brother, Max, is a catcher with the Houston Astros. They played for their dad, Jim, at Yuba City High School near Sacramento, California. Jim was a catcher who reached Triple A during his playing days in the Giants system.

“My dad always talked about the value of versatility in high school,” Brock said. “He preached it to the whole team. You might have two second basemen and they’re pretty equal, but you want both bats in the lineup so you might have to play outfield. It’s good to be able to do it. Don’t take it as a knock that you’re not at your normal position -- you’re in the lineup.”

In addition to wearing several different gloves, Stassi can swing the bat. He was Eastern League MVP in 2015 when he hit .300 with 15 homers, 90 RBIs and a .863 OPS for Double A Reading. He hit .267 with 12 homers, 58 RBIs and a .806 OPS at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season.

Stassi has been described as “a grinder” by members of the Phillies’ player-development staff, and that’s a compliment. More than one thousand players were selected ahead of him in the 2011 draft. His signing bonus was just $1,000. He’s never appeared on one of those Top 10 prospect lists and never been on a 40-man roster, never mind appeared in a big-league game. But he’s continually moved up the ladder and now, at age 27, is under serious consideration to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench.

And maybe -- if needed in a pinch -- in the bullpen, too.

“Oh, man, it would be a dream come true,” Stassi said. “Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the big leagues. Just the path that I’ve taken -- I've had to earn everything, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It would be really awesome to make this team.”

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

Yankees 9, Phillies 4: Cameron Perkins comes out swinging

TAMPA -- The Phillies’ bats were slow getting started in the Grapefruit League opener Friday afternoon. The Phils did not have a baserunner through the first six innings in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees at Steinbrenner Field.

“First game, I’m just happy we got at-bats because the pitching is always ahead of the hitting this early,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.

Outfielder Cameron Perkins had the Phillies’ first hit, a single up the middle in the seventh inning. He added a solo homer in the ninth inning.

Perkins, 26, was the Phillies’ sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Purdue University. He graduated from Southport High School in Indianapolis, the same school that produced Phillies great and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

A right-hander hitter who eschews batting gloves, Perkins hit .292 with eight homers and 47 RBIs at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season. He is not on the 40-man roster but was invited to camp for a look-see. He is considered a longshot to win a spot on the Phillies’ bench, but will certainly improve his chances if he keeps swinging it like he did Friday.

“I don’t think about it,” Perkins said of his bid to make the club. “All I can do is what I did today -- get my opportunity and make the most of it.”

Brock Stassi, another candidate for a job on the Phillies’ bench, also homered.

On the pitching side
Right-hander Alec Asher, who projects to open in the Triple A rotation, started for the Phils. He pitched two innings, allowed a home run to Didi Gregorius and struck out two.

Asher made big strides with his sinker last season. He’s added a cutter now.

Right-hander Nick Pivetta debuted with two scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, walked one and struck out three. The Phillies acquired Pivetta from Washington from Jonathan Papelbon in July 2015. He projects to open in the Triple A rotation, but first will pitch for Team Canada in the WBC in March.

“It’s a lifelong dream for me, right up there with whenever it is that I get my first start with the Phillies,” Pivetta said.

The bullpen
Mackanin has said he’d like to have two left-handed relievers in his bullpen. The Phillies have just one -- Joely Rodriguez -- on their 40-man roster, although it’s possible that Adam Morgan could be shifted from starter to reliever later in camp.

The Phils have brought two veteran lefties -- Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos -- into camp on minor-league deals to compete for a job. Burnett made his debut Friday and gave up a triple, a sacrifice fly and a home run in his inning of work.

Luis Garcia was tagged for four hits and three runs in his spring debut.

Up next
The Phillies host the Yankees in Clearwater on Saturday afternoon. Morgan will start for the Phils against right-hander Adam Warren.