Inside the Wild Card Standings: Are the Phillies Making a Push Yet?

Inside the Wild Card Standings: Are the Phillies Making a Push Yet?

When we last checked in with the standings after the All-Star break, we called for a moratorium on all post-season talk. That hasn't stopped other outlets from discussing it, but we've done our part by avoiding it here... until now. We're placing our moratorium on hiatus.

Nobody can deny the Phillies are suddenly playing an exciting brand of baseball unlike at any other point this season, and with the trade deadline less than a week away, there really is no ignoring the question anymore. With an 8-4 record since the break, which includes a pair of four-game winning streaks and multiple come-from-behind victories, is this club in the midst of a last-ditch playoff push?

While progress in the standings is slow going -- non-existent in the NL East, really -- there is progress for the Wild Cards nonetheless. They've only moved up by 0.5 games, but with their sweep of Milwaukee, are poised to leave at least one team in the rearview mirror. The Marlins, already selling, appear likely to falter next. If the Phillies continue to put up this fight, passing both is only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, standing off in the distance two weeks ago, the Mets are suddenly reeling. In this short stretch, they've gone from 0.5 back of a playoff spot to 7.0. There's still plenty of games left for them turn it around, and New York has been on the seesaw all year, but it's saying something that the Phillies are not much further out at this stage.

We all knew the Phils would need some of the teams ahead of them to fall down around them, but they have a golden opportunity to take care of their business over the weekend and ahead. The Fightins head down to Atlanta for a series with the Braves, then after a trip to Washington to face the NL East-leading Nationals, consecutive home dates with their direct competition for the WC -- Arizona, Atlanta again, and St. Louis.

In fact, every series from now until September 7 is with an opponent that is currently either ahead of the Phillies or tied in the Wild Card standings, or leading their division. That's a brutal road.

Making the playoffs is still a long shot, but the Phils certainly control their own destiny. Whether Ruben Amaro believes the club can do it may be entirely dependent on how they fare in this upcoming series against the Braves, which means he'll probably hold off on any landscaping trades for at least another couple of days. If they take even two of three in Atlanta over the weekend, which would keep them on the absurd .667 pace thought to be necessary to reach the postseason, should the front office keep the band together and try to make a run?

What a call. It would be a lot easier to put the moratorium's hiatus on permanent leave, but it's fun that the Phillies could even make someone believe they might have this in them.

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “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.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

On the surface, the Nerlens Noel trade doesn't look good.

The Sixers on Thursday traded the third-year big man to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick. That first-rounder turns into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey in 2017. Yuck. And double yuck.

The only hope in this trade comes in Anderson. The former first-round pick has the look of a prototypical NBA wing. At 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he has the frame to disrupt passing lanes and the bulk at 228 pounds to muscle up stronger swingmen.

At Virginia, Anderson was a key cog for a team that was ranked as high as No. 2 and earned a 2-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. After that season, Anderson opted to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 21st overall by the Mavericks in 2015.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches defense and Anderson was one of his finest disciples in that regard. Offensive limitations and being a part of a balanced attack with the Cavaliers caused Anderson's stock to drop. Despite shooting 45 percent from three in his final season, Anderson was considered a streaky shooter and, frankly, that's remained the NBA.

His rookie season was one to forget. The Mavericks were competitive in the Western Conference, finishing as the 6-seed and losing to the Thunder in the first round. Anderson couldn't find his way into Rick Carlisle's rotation. Dallas' never-ending supply of point guards coupled with the sharpshooting duo of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons relegated Anderson to just 11.8 minutes a game his rookie season. In his limited time, he shot 41 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.

Unfortunately, it's been a similar story this season, but with some glimmers of hope. Anderson is still losing minutes to Matthews and also big free-agent acquisition Harrison Barnes, who's having a strong first season with the Mavs. But over a three-game stretch in late January, Anderson averaged 15.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He also shot 6 of 16 (38 percent) from three during that span.

“I don’t want to sell myself short,” Anderson said to the Star-Telegram during that run. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off."

The most promising numbers in Anderson's young career are that he's averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a pro. At the very least, Anderson should develop into a solid defensive wing. If he develops offensively, who knows?

Per ESPN's Kevin Pelton, "Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes."

It's tough to argue that this trade was a good one for Bryan Colangelo. With that said, Anderson could still turn out to be a decent NBA player. He needs minutes and patience, two things the Sixers can offer in spades.