Inside the Standings: Sky Is Falling Edition

Inside the Standings: Sky Is Falling Edition

At first glance, this edition of Inside the Standings isn't so very different from two weeks ago. The Phillies were five games back of first place in the NL East on April 27; today they are only half a game further out. There have been a few changes since then -- most notably they've fallen to four games under .500, and are all alone in the cellar -- but the song remains the same.

This is not an overwhelming lead, not when there are 130 shows remaining.

Yet it's difficult to ignore the vibe, which has become increasingly negative. Of course, the manner in which the Phils were swept by the Mets has a lot to do with it. That was ugly, but those three losses are all it took to ratchet up the distress. Speech that began as murmurs and hushed warnings that maybe this isn't our season is slipping into talk of the sky falling. I think Beerleaguer summed up this change in public opinion the best.

Succint. Demonstrative. Valid?

If there's any silver lining at all right now, it's the upcoming slate gives the Phillies a chance to crawl back into contention. Beginning tonight, they face four consecutive opponents who are below .500 as well, each with a ways to go before getting their heads above water as well. If the Fightins can't get a rally going over the next week and a half of baseball, they might have big problems on their hands, as they are on a collission course with every first place team in the National League.

vs. Padres (11-21)

You would think welcoming a fellow last place team and owners of the worst record in the National League to CBP might be just what the doctor ordered, but the Phillies only managed a split in four dates with the Padres a few weeks back. Starting pitchers Cory Luebke and Anthony Bass stifled the Fightins in the latter half of the set, and along with Edinson Volquez, they're actually forming a half decent staff out there.

The Phils avoid Luebke and Bass this time around, but not Volquez, who they missed when they were out west. With Worley, Halladay, and Hamels going, maybe it won't matter. Even the Major League's worst bullpen should be able to handle the NL's second least productive offense.

vs. Astros (14-17)

They follow with a pair of those wonky two-game series against a pair of down-on-their luck clubs from the Central division. Houston went on a little tear recently, winning five straight, including a sweep over the Mets (ahem). They're back to their usual routine however, losing three of their last four games.

The rotation has been the Astros' undoing, ranking 13th in the NL in starting pitcher ERA. They can do a surprising amount of damage on the scoreboard though. They're a scrappy bunch that's led in many categories by 22-year-old Jose Altuve. The second baseman is batting .333 (1st) with 19 runs (2nd), 12 extra-base hits (1st), 5 steals (2nd), and an .869 OPS (1st).

@ Cubs (13-18)

Like the Padres, there's nothing particularly uplifting about seeing the Cubs again, whom the Phillies also split with. Offensively, Chicago is only marginally better than San Diego, and it should be back to Worley-Halladay for the two gamer. They're actually playing pretty good ball over the last three weeks or so. The Cubs are 10-7 since jumping out to a disastrous 3-11 start.

vs. Red Sox (12-19)

Boston, surprisingly, has one of the worst records in baseball, and are losers in nine of their last 11. With names like Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, and David Ortiz, their lineup is still one of the most feared, ranking second in the American League in runs scored. Obviously they are getting little help from their pitching staff.

The Sawx have the second-worst ERA in baseball, a whopping 5.29, and their starters have an outrageous 6.01 -- to put that number in perspective, it's far worse than the Phillies' relievers at 5.59. The lowest ERA on the staff belongs to Jon Lester at 4.29. Josh Beckett has a 5.97. Clay Buchholz has a 9.09. Those numbers should eventually settle down some, but they have a lot of work to do before they get to anything close to resembling normal.

On Deck: vs. Washington (19-12), @ St. Louis (20-11), @ NY Mets (18-13), vs. Miami (16-15), vs. LA Dodgers (20-11)

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

The Sixers are the perfect distraction from the Sixers

There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool. 

Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now. 

But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all. 

Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory. 

Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

Best of NBA: DeRozan scores career-high 43 points in Raptors' win

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 43 points and the Toronto Raptors rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Boston Celtics 107-97 on Friday night.

DeRozan shot 15 of 28 from the floor as he surpassed his 42-point effort against the Houston Rockets on March 30, 2015, helping the Raptors overcome the absence of fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry. Lowry sat out with a right wrist injury.

Serge Ibaka, acquired by trade from the Orlando Magic last week, scored 15 points in his debut, while fellow newcomer P.J. Tucker, picked up from the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, had a game-high 10 rebounds and nine points in his first game for his new team.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points for Boston, which also got 19 points each from Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart (see full recap).

Westbrook triple-double lifts Thunder over Lakers
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook scored 17 points in his 28th triple-double of the season, and his new teammates fit in seamlessly as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night.

Westbrook also had 18 rebounds and 17 assists for the 65th triple-double of his career.

It was the first game for new Thunder players Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, acquired Thursday in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. Gibson scored 12 points and McDermott added eight, even though they arrived Thursday night and weren't even available for shootaround on Friday.

Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson each set a career high with 19 points, and Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

D'Angelo Russell scored 29 for the Lakers (see full recap).

Pacers beat Grizzlies to snap six-game skid
INDIANAPOLIS -- CJ Miles made five 3-pointers and scored 17 points, Paul George had nine points and nine rebounds after remaining with Indiana following the trade deadline, and the Pacers snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Monta Ellis finished with 16 points, Myles Turner scored 12, and Lavoy Allen, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young each added 10 for the Pacers.

The Pacers outscored the Grizzlies 64-42 across the middle two quarters and never relinquished their lead, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half. The Grizzlies finished the game shooting 41 percent from the floor (35 for 84).

Troy Daniels had 13 points for Memphis and Marc Gasol scored 12. Indiana outrebounded Memphis 50-39 and scored 29 points off 17 Grizzlies turnovers (see full recap).