Inside the Standings: West Coast Baseball Edition

Inside the Standings: West Coast Baseball Edition

Of course April 16 is far too early to make much of the standings in the NL East... but it's not too early to take a peak, and who's that in first?

You see, the problem is not so much that the Phillies currently reside in fourth place in this season nine games old, trailing the upstart division-leading Nationals by 2.5. The problem is that the Nationals are actually in excellent position to build up a solid lead over the course of the next week and a half.

Tonight, Washington begins a four-game set with the lowly Houston Astros, followed by three games with a Miami Marlins squad that hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire so far, and finally three with the San Diego Padres, who you will read more about below.

Meanwhile, the Phillies are beginning a 10-game west coast swing tonight. Depending on how they fare, and whether or not the Nats can capitalize on the seemingly light slate ahead for them, this could quickly become a fairly intimidating lead before a month's worth of baseball has even been played.

So far, the Nationals are taking care of their business. They took two of three off a sorry Cubs team, two of three off the moderately surprising Mets -- but they're still the Mets -- and three of four off an average Reds club. If they can keep it up, Washington's series with the Los Angeles Dodgers starting April 27 could be on a collision course to feature two of the best records from the National League.

I suppose we should be grateful the Phillies will manage to avoid the white-hot LA Dodgers on this trip, owners of the best record in baseball and a six-game winning streak. In fact, the Dodgers aren't on the docket until June, and hopefully at least Chase Utley will be back by then.

Instead, the first west coast swing of the season features dates in San Francisco and San Diego, both of whom have been slow out of the gate, with a stop in Arizona on the way back, where five of the club's six wins have come at the expense of the aforementioned.

The Giants (4-5) got off to a rough start in Arizona, eating a three-game sweep served up by their division rival, but have since rebounded. San Fran is 4-2 over their last six, with the big difference coming on the mound. After allowing five or more runs in each game against the Dbacks, the Giants have held opponents to three or fewer in all four of their victories.

So far, the missing link is still Tim Linececum, who will start tonight's game against the Phillies. Lincecum is 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA in two starts, most recently allowing six earned runs in 2.1 frames against the Colorado Rockies. If he finally gets it going tonight, this series becomes a big early test for Philly.

The Padres (2-8) have been mired in a perfect storm of putrid offense and lousy pitching. They've been held to two or fewer runs in half their games, while allowing four or more in eight of ten so far. In the National League, only the Pirates have been worse at the plate across the board.

Let's be perfectly honest: the Fightins haven't been much better than San Diego at the dish, but Philly's starting pitching is keeping them in games. Pads starters on the other hand have thrown just 54.1 innings, while their relievers have been called upon for 38. By comparison, the Phils have only needed 22 innings from their bullpen in 2012 -- a huge disparity for 6% of the way through the season.

The Diamondbacks (6-3), as we mentioned, may have padded their win total a bit by jumping all over the Giants and Padres, but the Rocks may have pulled them back down to earth over the weekend. Colorado took two of three off of Arizona, a club that has had little trouble producing runs (tied for 4th in the NL), though they haven't exactly kept anybody other than San Diego off of the scoreboard.

The Dbacks have posted five or more runs in two-thirds of their games so far, but the Giants and Rockies also averaged that total against Arizona, revealing possible vulnerabilities for the reigning NL West Champions. Whether the Phillies can take advantage remains to be seen, but there is at least an expectation that runs should not come quite as easily for Zona either.

We'll check back in with the standings when the Phils return home, where they'll be getting back down to business with a series of NL East opponents -- including a head-to-head with the pesky Nationals.

On deck: Cubs, Braves, Nats, Mets

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

Joel Embiid officially out for rest of season

MIAMI -- In the end, he played 31 games.

Joel Embiid's rookie season is officially over, the Sixers announced on Wednesday. Embiid has not suited up since Jan. 27 and has missed 17 of the Sixers' last 18 games because of a left knee injury. An MRI taken Monday revealed a bigger meniscus tear than initially diagnosed but significant healing in the bone bruise.

The Sixers have only 23 games remaining and are not in playoff contention, lessening the urgency of Embiid’s return this season. Embiid concludes his rookie season averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.45 blocks in just 25.4 minutes per game.

"The assessment of Monday's follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid's left knee appears to reveal that the area affected by the bone bruise has improved significantly, while the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan," Sixers chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said in statement released by the team.

Embiid suffered the injury on Jan. 20 against the Trail Blazers, played one game against the Rockets, and has not suited up since then. Last week the Sixers had targeted a return date of March 3 but changed that status changed to "out indefinitely" after Embiid still was experiencing swelling. 

During an MRI taken the night of the injury, the results also revealed Embiid had a slight meniscus tear which the team did not believe was related to the contusion. 

Prior to the announcement, there was a strong reaction from the fans who were looking for transparency on the big man's status. Embiid expressed his displeasure last Thursday with the way the Sixers managed after he was informed he would miss multiple weeks. 

"I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said at the time. "I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled."  

The following day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said he would have done things differently. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that." 

Embiid's short NBA career has been marked by injuries from the very start until now. He sat out his first two seasons with foot injuries. This year the Sixers took an ultra-cautious approach to their starred big man. He was placed under a carefully monitored minute restriction (capped at 28) and did not play on both nights of back-to-back games. Embiid reiterated throughout the season that after missing two years, he was exercising patience to benefit his long-term health.

When Embiid was on the court, though, he shined. He made NBA basketball look easy and he had his way at and away from the basket. Embiid did not appear in enough games to qualify him on the leaders' charts, but based on his raw stats he led all rookies in scoring and in rebounds. Teammate Dario Saric is second in both categories but still trailed Embiid by 8.9 points and 1.6 rebounds. 

Embid ranks second among all players in blocks behind Jazz big man Rudy Gobert. In his first 31 games, he recorded nine double-doubles, which is first among rookies even though he has not played in over a month. 

Embiid scored a career-high 33 points on Dec. 18 against the Nets and 14 rebounds on Jan. 14 against the Knicks. He dished five assists in three games and swatted five blocks in two contests. 

The announcement of Embiid's status comes less than one week after Ben Simmons was ruled out for the season. Like Embiid did, Simmons will miss his entire first year with the Sixers. He suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot during training camp. Simmons received a bone marrow injection on Monday speed up the healing. Both Embiid and Simmons are projected to be the centerpieces of the Sixers' future when they return next season. 

Embiid is with the Sixers in Miami. Expect to see him around the team for the remainder of the season as he stays involved to further their team chemistry for the 2017-18 campaign.

While he works toward his return to the court and eyes his next official game months down the road, he will embrace his mantra. 

As he's always done, Embiid will trust the process.

Flyers trade Mark Streit to Lightning for forward Valtteri Filppula, picks

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Flyers trade Mark Streit to Lightning for forward Valtteri Filppula, picks

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Everyone knew there was a good chance the Flyers would try to move Mark Streit at the trade deadline.

What no one expected, however, was that they would trade him to Tampa Bay for a player who is coming back with a salary nearly identical to the one they are losing and has another year left on  his contract.

That's what transpired late Wednesday at the deadline when Streit left to the Lightning in exchange for longtime 32-year-old versatile forward Valtteri Filppula, who will make $5 million next season. He turns 33 later this month.

Streit, whose contract ends this summer, was making $5.25 million. Because Filppula, who spent eight years in the Detroit Red Wings organization, had a no movement clause, he has to be protected this summer in the NHL expansion draft.

The Flyers also received a 4th round pick and conditional 7th round pick.

Filppula will add scoring on the wing, but he has had declining numbers since joining Tampa in 2013-14 when he posted a career-high 25 goals and career-high 58 points.

Streit had a no movement clause in his contract, but also had 10 clubs he could be traded to and this was one of them. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has had a working relationship with Tampa GM Steve Yzerman in the past with the Braydon Coburn trade that brought them Radko Gudas.

Weal to the Phantoms
The Flyers have loaned Jordan Weal to the Phantoms to make him available for the AHL playoffs.

More coming...