Look Out Below: Three-Game Losing Streak Could Be Tip of Iceberg for Crashing Sixers

Look Out Below: Three-Game Losing Streak Could Be Tip of Iceberg for Crashing Sixers

On their own, none of the three games the Philadelphia 76ers lost last
week can be considered all that tragic. The first was against a tough
Bulls team that's won four of their last five games and always seems to
play the Sixers well, the second was against an improving Pacers squad
whose oversized frontcourt is a matchup nightmare for the undersized
Sixers, and the third was against a rebounding Lakers squad that
couldn't miss from downtown, and was led by Kobe Bryant with his typical
all-around scoring brilliance. All three were winnable games, but
especially with leading scorer and distributor Jrue Holiday missing the
last two, they're forgivable losses.


However, by failing to steal a single one of the three, now the
Sixers are really in trouble. Throughout their first 24 games, we've
been espousing the importance of the Sixers picking up as many wins as
possible while their schedule was still soft on road games and tough
opponents, because that's about all they have coming up—10 of the
Ballers' next 11 are on the road, including games against likely
playoff-bound squads like the Nets, Grizzlies, Spurs, Thunder and
Warriors. A couple of the games might be winnable, but none of them will
be cupcakes, and the Sixers haven't shown much recently to make you
think they'll be able to handle any opponent easily.


Fact of the matter is, the Sixers a little lucky to even be 12-12
right now. Not only have they played one of the NBA's easiest
start-of-season scheduled, their point differential over their 12 wins
and 12 losses is a dismal -66, more indicative of a team several games
under .500. They've been held under 100 in seven of their last eight
games, and they haven't won a game by double digits since early
November. The Sixers are still in the top ten in defensive efficiency—or
at least they were before last night's 111-point Laker performance—but
their offensive efficiency is in the bottom ten, and their true shooting
percentage in the bottom five. This team just can't score enough to win
a lot of games.


So what happens if the Sixers go 3-8 or 2-9 in their next 11, a
possibility that's disturbingly real at this point in the season? That's
not to say that the Sixers are doomed to so much losing—they should
hopefully be getting Holiday back any game now, and in his absence a
couple of the Sixer reserves (namely Nick Young and Spencer Hawes) have
started to regain their stroke, so it's possible that the team at full
strength will be playing at their best for the season. But then again,
maybe Holiday misses a couple more games, maybe Hawes and Young go back
to bricking, maybe even Evan Turner finally cools off significantly and
shoots the team out of a couple games. Betting on everything to go right
is rarely a smart proposition, and the Sixers have a much slimmer
margin of error this year than we previously thought.


Anyway, if they do go on such a losing tear, what does that mean for
the rest of their season? If they approach the trade deadline well
under .500, does that mean that rather than trying to make a trade to
plug a couple of their roster holes this season (a starting-caliber big
man, a competent backup point guard), they go into sell mode, trading
away non-core pieces like Jason Richardson, Nick Young, Dorell Wright or
(if anyone's dumb enough to take his contract) Spencer Hawes? Will that
inspire the Sixers to wave the white flag for this year?


Tanking is pretty antithetical to the Doug Collins experience, so
I'd be surprised to see the team pack it in before they absolutely have
to this year. But it is worth keeping in mind that the Sixers'
first-round draft pick next year is the lottery-protected property of
the Miami Heat, so the Sixers only get to use it if they land outside of
the playoffs. Next year's draft is said to be pretty weak, but even in
the mid-late lottery of a weak draft, you still have at least a decent
shot at adding a cheap player that could end up being a core piece, and
the Sixers could certainly use an extra one of those moving forward. If
the season looks like a lost one anyway, no Sixer fan will be
heartbroken at missing an opportunity to grab an eighth seed and get
bounced in the first round again.


Of course, there's still a very large wild card at play here, and
one whose role will hopefully become clearer this Thursday, when Andrew
Bynum goes in for an MRI, which should determine whether Bynum and his
gimpy legs are on track to return at some point in 2013, or whether he
needs to have season-ending injury. If it's the latter, then there
almost seems to be no point in pushing for the playoffs this season, and
a partial rebuild really might be the answer.


If it's the former, though, and Bynum might actually make it back to
the Sixers sometime in February or March, then that complicates things,
since the Sixers will want to give Bynum as much an opportunity as
possible to play with the existing Sixers core and prove his worth (and
more importantly, his health) before Philly potentially re-signs him in
the off-season. Naturally, we'd kill for that kind of complication, if
it meant a chance to see Bynum in action. But if the news on Thursday is
bad—and given recent history, we certainly can't write off that
likelihood—and then the Sixers struggle to grab wins on this upcoming
roadtrip, then this season could become an afterthought by New Year's.


Even if so, the long-term future for this team is looking bright, if
not overly so. Jrue Holiday is still playing at an All-Star level,
Thaddeus Young is posting career highs across the board, Evan Turner has
scored in double-digits for 16 straight games after not doing so more
than five games in a row anytime before that. If the worst is true about
Bynum and he's destined never to play a game in a Sixers uniform, we'll
still have a good deal of cap space this summer to add an impact free
agent, and possibly a decent draft pick to throw into the mix as well.
It'll just mean another year of waiting for relevancy for the Sixers,
and for better or worse, we're pretty used to that by now.

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

Phillies respond to Mackanin's verbal spanking, beat Reds on Joseph's walk-off

BOX SCORE

It's too early to tell if the worm has turned for the Phillies, but this was certainly a step in the right direction.

The Phils, who entered the day with the worst record in the majors, pulled off a 4-3, walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday (see Instant Replay). The Phils won it on a hit by Tommy Joseph after Aaron Altherr made a heads-up baserunning play to advance to second on a wild pitch that bounced just a few feet away from Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

The win was just the Phillies' sixth in the last 27 games — inching them out baseball's basement — but it was their second in the last three and both of them have been walk-off specials with Joseph delivering the winning run with a single up the middle.

"Works for me," Joseph said of his recent penchant for walk-off hits.

Works for manager Pete Mackanin, too.

On Saturday night, the Phils were beaten, 5-2, by the Reds. The Phils were held to one hit and no runs over the first eight innings by a pitcher (Tim Adleman) with an ERA of over 6.00 and after the game, Mackanin called a team meeting. The skipper was tight-lipped about the meeting, but sources say he gave the lads a verbal spanking that belied his mild-mannered personality.

Time will tell if the meeting creates lasting impact and the intensity Mackanin would like to see, but he saw a response Saturday.

"I'd like to think it did (have an impact)," Mackanin said. "I was hoping they would. They played well. They put together a few hits. The home runs were nice to see, but I would like to see us bunch four or five base hits."

For the record, Joseph did not think the meeting had a huge impact on the team. He believes the Phils are better than they have shown and did not need a manager's scolding to play better.

"No, no," he said when asked if the meeting led to more intensity. "We know what we're capable of. We have a great team in here. It's a matter of playing great as a team. We were able to show that today."

There were a lot of contributors in this win.

Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all smacked solo homers off 40-year old Cincinnati starter Bronson Arroyo.

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff was not at his best, but he did manage to stop the bleeding after allowing a two-run homer in the first. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up only one more run before handing a tie game off to the bullpen.

That bullpen was outstanding, running its scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game tied until Joseph could work his walk-off magic in the ninth.

But that magic started when Aaron Altherr led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Lorenzen and alertly took second on an 0-2 wild pitch that didn't bounce very far away from Barnhart. Altherr's getting into scoring position for Joseph was huge.

"Tommy Joseph has been coming up big in big situations and coming through for us," Mackanin said. "That wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Altherr coming up and advancing on that ball in the dirt. So it's a good day.

"Maybe I should have a meeting every night."

After batting just .179 with one homer and seven RBIs in April, Joseph has hit .321 (25 for 78) with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games this month. He is the first Phillie with two walk-off hits in a three-game span since Juan Samuel in June 1985 and first in the majors since Starlin Castro, then of the Cubs, did it in June 2015.

"If he continues like this, he’s going to have a heck of a good year and help us win a lot of games," Mackanin said.

Joseph nearly had his career ended by a series of concussions. A month-long slump was nothing he couldn't handle.

"At the beginning of April, I didn't think I'd have an April like I did," he said. "So it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt Stairs, making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what's going on, and it's all about really sticking to the adjustments that we make."

The Phillies have not won two games in a row in exactly a month — since April 26-27.

Can they do it Sunday?

Is the worm turning for this team?

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Reds 3

BOX SCORE

The Phillies rallied for a 4-3 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday.

Tommy Joseph won it with a single up the middle with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. The hit scored Aaron Altherr, who had singled and moved to second on a wild pitch.

The Phils have won just six of their last 27 games. Joseph has had a walk-off, game-winning hit in the last two wins.

In addition to Joseph, who also homered, the star of the game was the Phillies' bullpen. Four Phils' relievers combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff exited. The Phillies' bullpen is riding a 19 2/3-innings scoreless streak.

Starting pitching report
Eickhoff allowed eight hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. He gave up a bunt hit and a two-run homer to the first two batters of the game but took a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning. He allowed a leadoff single and a one-out RBI double in that inning as the Reds tied the game at 3-3.

Veteran Bronson Arroyo, back in action at age 40 after recovering from surgery the last two seasons, gave up three runs — all on solo homers — over five innings.

Bullpen report
Good work by Edubray Ramos to get two outs in the sixth to strand a runner in scoring position and preserve a 3-3 tie. Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each followed with a scoreless inning. Neris struck out dangerous Joey Votto on a splitter with a man on base to end the top of the ninth. He got the win.

Austin Brice pitched two scoreless innings for the Reds. Michael Lorenzen took the loss. He gave up two hits in the ninth. Joseph's game-winning hit came on a 97 mph heater.

At the plate
Cesar Hernandez, Michael Saunders and Joseph all clouted solo homers for the Phillies. Joseph has six homers in his last 21 games.

Zack Cozart smacked a two-run homer against Eickhoff in the first inning. The Reds tied the game on a one-out double by Scooter Gennett in the sixth.

Remembering Bunning
Jim Bunning died Friday night. Larry Bowa recalled the impact that the Hall of Famer had on his career (see story).

Up next
The series concludes Sunday afternoon. Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) and Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99) are the pitchers.