Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Inside the Standings: .500 Edition

Oh, Nationals. Is your run at the top already over? Because that's really disappointing if it is.

For much of the season, Washington has been the leader of the pack in the NL East. They were in first place when they played the Phillies only two weeks ago, still had their death grip on it when we last checked the standings 10 days ago, but after spending 32 days on top, the Nats suddenly find themselves 1.5 back. What happened?

After beginning the season red hot, jumping out to a 14-4 record in April, Washington is playing sub-.500 baseball since, going 10-13 over their last 23. Not as easy as the Phillies made it look the last five seasons, is it?

Meanwhile, Philadelphia's status hasn't changed much. They may have made it back to .500 -- for now -- but they remain in last place, still spinning their wheels at five games back.

Dropping two of three to Boston didn't help their cause. Cole Hamels tied for the Major League lead in with his sixth win on Friday, but Joe Blanton and Cliff Lee got roughed up over the weekend, capping the Phils' win streak at six, and destroying their momentum.

The Fightins shouldn't require any extra motivation to dust themselves off for the Nationals though. A rivalry is brewing, and Washington is the first of six straight opponents currently sporting a winning record.

vs. Washington (24-17)

The Nationals' rotation continues to stand among the best in baseball, with a 15-10 won-loss, and a 2.77 ERA -- second best in the Majors. There's no easy draw in the group of five. The Phillies have the horses to match up, but the Nats' bullpen has been strong as well.

Their Achilles heel, if you'll forgive the expression, has been run support. Washington is tied for 11th in the NL with 3.78 runs per game. And what of the Bryce Harper effect? While he's been lighting the world on fire, and the offense hasn't experienced a slight boost overall, it hasn't been enough. In 21 games with the 19 year old in the lineup, the Nats are scoring an average 4.24, compared to 3.3 without.

Washington has been measurably better at home, with a 15-8 record at Nationals Park, while just 9-9 on the road.

@ St. Louis (22-19)

This is the Phillies' first meeting with the reigning World Champions since October's heartbreaking defeat. The Cardinals have led the Central division since Opening Day, but that might not be the case by the time the the Phils arrive in town. St. Louis has lost eight of ten, including three-game sweeps by the Braves and the Dodgers, and they're 6-11 over the last 17. As you can see, they currently own just half a game over the Reds.

It's difficult to explain what's happened to the Cards, who have the most productive offense in the National League, leading the league in home runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. Suddenly they can't keep their opponents off the board, allowing six runs or more in nine of their last 10, and over 14 of their last 20. That only happened three times over the first 22 games.

Could be another slugfest for the Phillies, who allowed nine home runs in their series against the Red Sox -- eight by starting pitchers.

@ Mets (22-19)

This has revenge series written all over it. The Mets embarrassed the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park a week and a half ago when the bullpen entered a full-on meltdown. It's disappointing because all three games were there for the taking. Instead they were broomed out of their own building.

Meanwhile, New York's roller-coaster season continues. They left Philly winners of five straight, but are 3-6 since, and had lost four in a row before all of that. Offensively, the Mets have the bats to swing their way back into games, but the problem is they need to. Their pitching staff owns the second-worst ERA in the NL at 4.60, and their bullpen has overtaken the Fightins for the most awful group in baseball.

The Mets still own the Phillies in 2012 however, taking five of six -- all at CBP.

Due up: @ Miami (22-19), vs. LA Dodgers (28-13), @ Baltimore (27-15)

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

Thrust into bigger role, Sixers' Holmes stars in win over Wizards

BOX SCORE

For as much as the Sixers’ bigs are talked about, Richaun Holmes often is left out of the conversation. 

He’s not the centerpiece of the team like Joel Embiid nor was he heavily involved in trade talks like Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. He is the backup center who bides his time on the bench and quietly stays ready when he gets the nod.

And on Friday, he was the standout player in the Sixers’ 120-112 win over the Wizards (see Instant Replay)

“He’s been sort of the person that people forget about because of the logjam of five men,” Brett Brown said. “We all sort of think, ‘Well, he should just accept it because he’s behind Joel and Nerlens and Jahlil. Good ol’ Richaun. Go to the D-League and it’s OK.’ And that doesn’t work. He’s a pro, he’s competitive. He’s handled it. He’s really been a wonderful teammate.”

Holmes was bumped up in the rotation following the trade of Noel to the Mavs. He moved into the second-unit role while Okafor started in place of the injured Embiid. 

Holmes recorded his first double-double with 12 points (6 for 9 from the field) and 10 rebounds (three offensive). He also blocked a career-high five shots, tying Embiid for the most by a Sixer this season. The second-year big man put together this impressive performance in 26 minutes off the bench. 

“Just play hard,” Holmes said of his approach. “Just go out there, show what you’ve been working on, play hard every second you’re out there. That’s the motto I’ve got.”

Holmes is averaging 16.1 minutes and has appeared in just 32 of the Sixers’ 57 games. This season he also spent time with the Delaware 87ers of the Development League to get playing time. Holmes embraced an opportunity similar to Friday’s a month ago when he scored 18 points in as many minutes against the Clippers. 

“I try to approach every game this season the same way, whether everybody was playing or people were hurt,” Holmes said. “Prepare like I’m going to play 30 minutes a game. I think having that mindset helped me to stay ready at all times and be aggressive when I had a chance.”

Brown did not rule out the possibility that Holmes could start at some point if he continues this production. The Sixers are limiting Okafor to 20 to 24 minutes per game, according to Brown. That, combined with Embiid’s injury, could lend itself to an increased role for Holmes. 

“I think in that environment, it wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for Richaun to get a start from time to time,” Brown said. 

Even if he remains on the second unit, Holmes proved he can provide a spark off the bench. Dario Saric noted how Holmes’ impact on both ends of the floor bolsters the frontcourt in addition to a more offensively-minded Okafor (11 points, two rebounds). 

“I think he played unbelievably good in both ways,” Saric said. “Everybody knows he’s an elite guy finishing around the rim, and he stepped in Nerlens’ place, he replaced him unbelievably good. I hope he will get the same minutes for the next game because we have Jahlil, who is more like a post-up player, who likes more to score from the low-post block, and we for sure need some guy like Richaun who will play in both ways." 

Perhaps the person least surprised by Holmes' game was Holmes himself. It was the result he puts in long hours to produce.

“It’s all about the grind,” he said. “All about keep working, keep trying to move up, keep trying to get better every second and it’ll pay off.” 

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Ilya Bryzgalov talks goalies playing in contract year, Las Vegas and more

Gotta love Bryz, right?

Former Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was his usual humorous, unpredictable self in a recent interview with Sportsnet.ca's Luke Fox.

From what he's doing now to talking pressure as a goalie, here are some of the highlights ...

On a goalie's mental state when job security is up in the air (referenced to Flyers goalie Steve Mason)
“So many goalies take the job for a long time, so it’s easy to be out of game. You worry. You want to find a long-term job, pay bills. It’s not a secret. That’s why when there’s no [contractual] certainty and you don’t see 100 percent confidence from your team, it might affect your game. If the season’s not going well, you start thinking about it.”

On his son playing goalie
"He chose it. He’s the guy who gives his team a chance to win. Make some saves. But he plays as a player once a week, too. Shoots the puck on goalies every Wednesday pretty much.”

On being a hockey dad
“I’m pretty calm. I only get upset when I see the referees make the bad calls. The kids work so hard and play so passionately, you can’t take sides. Only when the referee’s unfair.”

On being a pro hockey player in Las Vegas
"I’m family guy, settled down. I’ve never been too emotional or casino-addicted. For me, no problem. For the young guys to play there, it causes trouble, man. Difficult trouble. … The young ones with the cash? Las Vegas can provide lots of scenes, know what I mean?"

The rest is just as good. For the full Q&A, read Fox's article right here.

Also, Bryzgalov will be a part of Sportsnet's trade deadline coverage next Wednesday.

And side note: Bryz remains active on Twitter. And remains random as ever.

Just look at his last tweet ...