Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

Lowered Expectations: Coming to Grips With the 2012 Phillies

We are at the point in the 2012 baseball season where if nothing else it's fair to characterize the Phillies' chances of winning the World Series as improbable. Technically it could happen, and this site isn't the type to promote the abandonment of hope. We simply state for the record that the club is in the hole, and the reasons to believe they can still crawl out of it are dwindling as summer begins.

Chase Utley returning should provide a shot in the arm, as should Roy Halladay -- Ryan Howard on the other hand is a little less certain. Any notion he become The Big Piece the moment he step into the batter's box seems misplaced. His presence couldn't hurt either, but you are still relying on the rest of the roster to stay healthy at least, in many cases increase production as well.

I suspect none of the above registers as earth shattering to most observers. It's merely an attempt at establishing the common ground for what we all are watching unfold.

The reactions to which have been extraordinarily diverse.

There are no shortage of people willing to declare the Phils' season over, and plenty of them are quick to play the blame game. Ruben Amaro lives squarely in the crosshairs of the public these days, as general managers often do when the teams they run disappoint. Others might accuse critics of revisionist history, but fact is everybody's job comes up for review.

Defensive fans detect the overtone in that message though, and would contend in spite of having a poor season, times have never been better for the Fightins overall. After decades filled primarily with frustration, it's difficult to interpret the whining as anything beyond being a part of a bandwagon mentality. Apparently we should be thankful we've experienced good teams at all.

So who is in the right: is it the smug cynics climbing the sinking Titanic like rats, or the self-proclaimed flag bearers of the Phillies franchise?

In all honesty, what would you even have the organization do about this mess right now?

The season started on April 5, and this is the team the Phillies brought to the dance. Players can come back from injuries, but more could hit the disabled list just as fast. There are only two more directions for them to go that are guaranteed to impact the locker room this year.

Number one would be fire Charlie Manuel. It's not an original idea, and while Cholly is an oddball, all things considered it is hard to blame him for the position the squad is in given the circumstances. Manuel's neck will be on the line sooner or later, but since he's only the most successful manager in Phillies history, he's earned a longer leash than most.

Number two, I guess, is make trades, and there are a couple of problems with this. For one, it's hard to pull off big moves this time of year because a lot of front offices aren't sure whether they are buyers or sellers yet -- more than ever with the addition of a second wild card. Regardless, it ain't easy to measure what that accomplishes, unless it's only in the vain hopes of catapulting the Phils into contention this season.

In which case, you're not searching for a trade. What you want is a magic cure-all.

I'm not sure where the Phillies go from here, but it looks like a bumpy road to the postseason, and the path fades on the way to the World Series. My suggestion is you adjust your compasses accordingly. These Phillies may have a few tricks left up their sleeve, but nothing short of a complete reversal of fortune is going to push them over the top.

But you know what? After five consecutive NL East Championships, a parade, and a measured push for more, they deserve a slight reprieve. And as bad as things are or look, the team still has several elements working in their favor: they have talent, and they are willing to acquire more.

My advice is to everybody is take a deep breath, and accept this season is likely going nowhere. If they turn it around -- and rest assured they can -- that's amazing.

Otherwise, like it or not, the Phillies bought themselves a year to retool if need be. It's where they take us from here that should really decide some fates.

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

Instant Replay: Knicks 110, Sixers 109

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A 17-point game came down to the final possessions. 

The Knicks squeaked out a 110-109 victory, holding on to this one after suffering a buzzer-beating loss to the Sixers on Jan. 11. 

The Knicks squandered a double-digit lead in the fourth as the Sixers slowly chipped away at their lead at the line. The Sixers got within one, 106-105, when T.J. McConnell drained a three after a series of Sixers’ free throws. 

Jahlil Okafor scored a go-ahead basket during a hustling Sixers possession with nine seconds remaining to give the Sixers a 109-108 lead. 

In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony, who had been running up the scoreboard all night (37 points), that nailed the game-winning jumper over Robert Covington. Kyle O’Quinn picked off the Sixers' final inbound attempt. 

Inside the box score
• Okafor finished with a season-high 28 points and 10 rebounds. He had eight rebounds in first half, including a coast-to-coast fast break.

• Dario Saric continues his strong Rookie of the Year push. He finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. 

• Robert Covington struggled from the field overall (7 of 19, 2 of 11 from three) but filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

• Anthony did what Anthony does. He scored 37 points on 15 of 25 from the field, including the game-winner.

Anderson debuts
Justin Anderson made his Sixers debut in the first quarter. Anderson is a multi-positional player and the lineup reflected that. He first played with Rodriguez, Stauskas, Covington and Holmes. Anderson played 3:47 and went 0 for 1 from three with a rebound and a foul. 

While Anderson said he had learned about the Sixers by watching his first game from the bench, he will get more on-the-court experience on Sunday when he plans to spend time at the training complex on the team’s off day. 

Bigs Convene
Joel Embiid was with the Sixers in New York. After the second quarter ended, he stayed on the court to talk with Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah. Both Knicks big men also were sidelined on Saturday.

Trust It
T.J. McConnell isn’t the only one to #trustthefriendship with Saric. Check out this no-look pass to Robert Covington. 

Up next
The Sixers have a day to bounce back from this loss. The 48-9 Warriors come to town on Monday. 

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”