Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Down the Drain: OffenseDefense Costs Phillies Again

Love him or hate him, Chris Wheeler summed it up best just before tonight's winning run came across the plate in the top of the eleventh: "Nothing's comin' easy."

The Phillies took a three-run lead on a Jimmy Rollins blast in the second inning, then waited through an hour and seven minute rain delay before allowing it to drip away one frame at a time. The offense could not add to their total, Ryan Madson blew his first save of the season, and the club finally fell apart during extras when Placido Polanco failed to make a fairly routine play at third base to extend the game. Cubs steal one, 4-3.

Tonight's loss will be tough to swallow, as the Phils had every opportunity to play the role of finishers against a struggling ball club. Instead, Chicago kept coming back at the home team, and eventually outlasted them.

You Can Plan a Pretty Picnic, But You Can't Predict the Weather
The trouble began when the tarp came off the diamond. Kyle Kendrick, who had pitched well through three innings, was unable to return after the pause. From there, Charlie Manuel embarked on a mission to use every available arm, so by the time the tenth rolled around, the only remaining reliever was David Herndon.

Denys Baez went the farthest, giving the team a competent 2.2 innings after the delay. While he seems to have relished the longer appearances in recent weeks, Baez may have tired in the top of the sixth, plunking Darwin Barney with two outs to set up a Starlin Castro RBI single. Barney stole second, and scored when Domonic Brown's throw from right field took a wicked bounce that Dane Sardinha couldn't handle.

Romero, Stutes, and Bastardo combined for a scoreless 1.2, but Jose Contreras saw the lead cut to one on his watch after a pair of doubles by Castro and Carlos Pena in the eighth.

Madson Falters
In the ninth, Madson blew the save, but he nearly cost them the game entirely. After Geovany Soto took the closer deep to left center to knot the score at three, it appeared the very next batter gave the Cubs the lead. Tyler Colvin drove another bomb over the wall in right, but replays showed it may have been aided by a Phillies(?) fan. The umpires went inside for a replay session, and indeed wound up sending Colvin back to second base. Madson worked his way out of the inning after the gift.

Was fan interference the correct call? (take a closer look here) The guy clearly leaned over the fence, but I wasn't sure there was conclusive evidence that ball didn't have the distance. In any event, it gave the Phils a second chance, and the imbecile was escorted from the stadium, so at least that much was win-win.

Another Long Night
The Fightins had a shot to take the game in the tenth, but the depleted bullpen reared its ugly head. Shane Victorino drew a two-out walk, and Raul Ibanez reached on an infield single. That brought Brown to the plate, but with Herndon's spot up next, Cubs manager Mike Quade called for the intentional walk.

While Wilson Valdez was willing and able, Charlie left Herndon in the game and prayed for the best. A reliever with two career Major League at bats, Herndon swung meekly at strike three, and the threat was over.

Not Like This...
File under "Not Meant to Be."

Colvin led off the eleventh with softly hit ball up the first base line, which he nearly outran. Howard got to it with little time to spare, but couldn't get the pill out of his glove in time for a flip. It appeared as if Herndon might come unglued after the runner advanced when a passed ball got through Carlos Ruiz, but back-to-back K's pulled the situation back to manageable.

Barney grounded the ball down the third base line to a charging Polanco, who had what looked like a relatively easy play at first. Instead, the usually steady Polanco short-armed the throw, and Ryan Howard wasn't able to dig it out. Colvin came flying around third, easily scoring the game's decisive run.

Time to Point Fingers
There is plenty of blame to go around after a loss like this. One group at least that should be left off the hook is the Phils' pitching staff. Sure, the bullpen allowed some runs tonight, but they weren't actively bad. Madson was probably due, and the winning score flat out wasn't Herndon's fault.

You could question Manuel's frequent use of the bullpen, however. I hope they have plenty of Anytime minutes out there. Four pitchers didn't even get a full inning of work, and obviously it created problems later in the game, when instead of managing to win the game, he was forced to manage it not to lose. While the Phillies mulled their limited options, the Cubs still had plenty of arms ready to go deep into the night.

But ultimately you have to look at the everyday guys. The offense has long since been a source of discontent, and tonight they didn't record a hit for five innings. On top of it, a series of shoddy defensive plays directly resulted in the winning run coming across. It's enough not to hit, but if the sloppy execution in the field continues, even the Phillies' pitching won't be able to save them.

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

Best of NBA: Noel scores 9 points, grab 10 boards in Mavs debut

DALLAS -- Harrison Barnes scored 19 points and Dirk Nowitzki had 18 points and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks ended a three-game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Pelicans 96-83 on Saturday night.

The Pelicans fell to 0-2 since trading for DeMarcus Cousins and pairing him with Anthony Davis.

Davis had 39 points and 14 rebounds but scored only 12 in the second half. Cousins finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.

Seth Curry scored 10 of his 13 in the fourth quarter to help Dallas pull away. His 3-pointer with 4:49 to play gave the Mavericks an 84-72 lead, and the Pelicans never got closer than six after that (see full recap).

Harden leads Rockets past Timberwolves in 142-130 shootout
HOUSTON -- James Harden had 24 points and 10 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 142-130 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves as both teams set season scoring highs in a Saturday night shootout.

Houston won for the sixth time in seven games, handing the Timberwolves their first road loss in more than three weeks.

Minnesota committed a season-high 25 turnovers that led to 38 points for the Rockets.

Playing against Houston's guard-heavy rotation, Minnesota went inside all night and outscored the Rockets 68-44 in the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns had 37 points and 22 rebounds, and Andrew Wiggins added 30 points (see full recap).

Bulls benefit as James sits with strep, beat Cavs 117-99
CLEVELAND -- Dwyane Wade scored 20 points and Jimmy Butler recorded a triple-double, leading the Chicago Bulls to a 117-99 victory Saturday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who played without LeBron James.

James missed the game with strep throat, and coach Tyronn Lue said he wasn't sure how long the Cavaliers would be without the four-time MVP. Cleveland struggled as it often does without its star - they are 4-19 without him since he returned to Cleveland in 2014, including 0-4 this season.

Chicago has won all three games against Cleveland this season. It took advantage of James' absence to win its fourth straight overall (see full recap).

George ejected, Heat stay hot with 113-95 win over Pacers
MIAMI -- Paul George had another frustrating night in Miami.

Hassan Whiteside scored 22 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Dion Waiters added 22 points and the red-hot Miami Heat pulled away late to beat the Indiana Pacers 113-95 on Saturday night. Miami outscored Indiana 42-22 in the final 16 minutes, all with George watching from the Pacers' locker room after an ejection.

"It felt like a playoff-type game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said (see full recap).

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

Flyers suffer deflating outdoor loss to Penguins, fall in playoff picture

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH – They won the battle inside the faceoff circle. Outshot their opponent badly. Blocked more shots, too.

And the Flyers still lost. Sound familiar?

Saturday's 4-2 defeat (see Instant Replay) to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series outdoor game likely confirms for general manager Ron Hextall it’s time to be a seller at the trade deadline with a playoff berth seemingly out of sight.

"We gotta score goals. We got good opportunities, but it’s getting old," Jakub Voracek lamented. "If we don’t find a way to win a game, nobody cares."

Not enough scoring from their pop-gun offense, which now has just 25 goals over their last 16 games. Which is a major reason why they've lost seven of their last nine.

"It's that cliché, gripping your stick and I don’t like to use that," Voracek said. "The bottom line, if we want to make the playoffs we got to score the goals. We're not scoring."

It was 36 degrees at puck drop and there were swirling wind gusts. Players said the first period was tough, but they adjusted as the game went on.

"It feels good. It feels awesome," Wayne Simmonds said. "It's the way ice hockey should be played."

So should a few wins with this club and it's not happening. They play well enough to win but ...

"We got to get going here," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We're [five] points back and that's the biggest thing and it's in all of our heads now. It's getting down to not a lot of games left and we've got to get two points."

Goalie Michal Neuvirth did not have a strong game facing 29 shots.

"We walk away with the wrong result," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a day in-between to turn the page and get back at it."

Things began Pittsburgh's way with Sidney Crosby scoring at 11:18, sneaking to the low right slot near the goal line to take a perfect pass from Jake Guentzel and one-time into the far side on Neuvirth for his 34th goal.

Brayden Schenn, centering a new line with Nick Cousins and Jakub Voracek, had a solid scoring chance in the final minute of the period, but Pens goalie Matt Murray turned his shot aside. Murray also had two good saves on Sean Couturier earlier from in-tight.

Nick Bonino, one of the heroes from the Stanley Cup Final last season, made it 2-0 at 6:44 of the second period on the power play. He scored almost from the same spot where Crosby scored.

Minutes earlier, Guenztel took a questionable hit to the head area from Brandon Manning which the Penguins felt was illegal (see video). Pittsburgh came back with Chris Kunitz rocking Ivan Provorov two shifts later.

Manning’s hit energized the Flyers, who owned the second period.

Hours before the game, Voracek said what most people were already thinking.

"I would expect this to be the biggest game of the year," he said. "You look at the standings. We can’t afford to lose."

Voracek wasn't kidding when he said the Flyers needed to do something here. He went behind the net 4-on-4 with Justin Schultz and came around the front with the puck to muscle it past Murray at 11:14, cutting the Flyers deficit in half.

Voracek's goal, his second in three games, gave the Flyers even more of a lift and they made a strong push to tie the game before the period ended.

"We spent a lot of time in their zone and we were very strong on the forecheck," Voracek said. "We had comebacks early in the season … but two penalties in the end, it's tough … How do you rebound? You have no choice. We're not out. We have to start winning."

The Flyers killed off a carryover penalty to start the third but immediately after, the Pens got a strong forecheck with Eric Fehr behind the net, getting the puck over to 40-year-old Matt Cullen, who snuck up on Neuvirth and stunned him with a wraparound.

That was a terribly costly goal and made it 3-1 but Gostisbehere got it right back minutes later with his first goal in 34 games off a point shot during the power play.

It was as close as the Flyers got. Pittsburgh scored off a faceoff to make it 4-2 in the final six minutes. Sean Couturier lost a draw to Evgeni Malkin and the Pens scored off a point drive Neuvirth couldn't find.

"That was deflating," Gostisbehere said. "We can be sad for ourselves all we want … bad bounces or we can say, 'well, it's lucky.' But you know, it keeps happening for a reason."