On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

On the Phillies Hitting Rock Bottom: Why It's Not So Bad

A few weeks back on Lunch Break, Rhea Hughes asked me if the Phillies had hit rock bottom, to which I responded with something to the effect of No way. Clearly I was waiting for them to get swept out of Miami by a free-falling Marlins club as the 2012 season reached its midpoint before making that declaration.

We've arrived. In case you haven't been beaten over the head with the standings enough already, this is where the Phils stand after their most recent debacle: five-game losing streak; 3-7 over their last ten; 9-19 for the month of June; nine games under .500; 7.5 back of a Wild Card, eight teams ahead; 11.0 back in the NL East, all alone in the basement; GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gauging interest in a potential Cole Hamels trade.

Does it get any worse?

Well, yeah, it does -- just probably not for the Phillies, at least not any time soon. That's sort of the definition of rock bottom: no place left to go but up.

Which is not to say this year's squad will make a run at the postseason, or even start winning more games. On the contrary, while technically possible, even the most optimistic fan must concede the playoffs are in fact a longshot, and the remainder of this summer is likely futile. Not trying to be the earliest to call it -- and I certainly wasn't -- but what we've seen out of the previous half confirms suspicions dating back before the campaign ever got underway, that the road back to the World Series is not paved in pennants earned between '07 and '11.

Once you accept this is shaping up as a lost season though, you should be able to see beyond the miserable results to the sweet horizon. Other than their record, what has changed on the Phillies from nine months ago, when they were setting a franchise record with 102 wins? A few more miles on the odometers of a collection of classics, for sure, along with injuries that may very well leave behind shells of once-great players.

Still, back in February or March, most of us imagined this team would be in the hunt at the All-Star break regardless. They're really not, so I suppose congrats are in order if you called the Phils' out-and-out demise far earlier. However, the current state of the club, which we'll describe as a distant last place, was not quite mainstream thinking.

So if this truly is rock bottom, if missing the playoffs is now our expectation for this year, the worst is already over. Blame it on Amaro, blame it on Charlie Manuel, blame it on the freight train of sportswriters who supposedly forced management's hand on the moves they made. Out of the tournament is out of the tournament, and how many out doesn't count for much.

But how about next season?

The Phillies have so much talent, the general population allowed themselves to believe the team could withstand half the year without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and at least hang in the race. That obviously wasn't the case, especially as injuries continuously crippled them along the way, but it speaks to the bigger picture.

Somewhere beneath this 36-45 record is a core that can, and has, won a large number of ball games -- guys who are proven to have what it takes to deliver the hardware. Maybe a bunch of them have fallen out of their primes, but Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins -- contracts the Phils are likely stuck with -- have some form of production left in the tank. Put the right pieces around them, and they can be an integral part of something special.

And thanks to your overwhelming support, it's not like the front office doesn't have the money. Folks get the impression that because the organization is having trouble getting Hamels locked down, they either can't afford him or don't want to go over budget, when there is no indication that is the root problem. Heck, the expiring pacts of Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton alone almost covers it. Another year down the road, there are decisions to make on Utley and Roy Halladay, too. Between Placido Polanco, Ty Wigginton, Kyle Kendrick... there's a lot of loose change under the Phillies' couch cushions. They can more or less sign who they want.

Even losing Hamels would not be the end of the world, it wouldn't even be rock bottom because you've been warned. Yesterday's report on Amaro calling would-be suitors is rock bottom -- now we're prepared when the day comes.

I'm not a proponent of trading away a World Series MVP, for reasons both performance-related and sentimental. Having said that, if it ever comes to pass, between the haul they would get in return, and the cash it frees up, the Phils should have no trouble landing on their feet. They would gain the financial flexibility to retool as early as this offseason, while simultaneously replenishing their farm system, or perhaps coming away with a player or players who could help immediately.

Based on the level of expectations, and the degree to which the Fightins have underachieved, the only way this could feel any more hopeless is if the franchise was headed back to the Dark Ages. Clearly they are not.

While there have been missteps along the way, there isn't a contract or contracts that are preventing them from winning, nor is there a prospect they've traded along the way yet who is coming back to haunt them. The Phillies have constructed a powerhouse franchise that is capable of putting a powerhouse product on the field in any given year. It's going to take a hell of a lot more than one awful season to undo that.

Today things are bleakest; tomorrow is a new day. The Phillies may not be able to salvage this season, but there are plenty of ways to fix this mess. With the resources that are available, how can they possibly make matters worse?

Draymond Green says Kevin Hart's trash talking gave Warriors 'a little added motivation'

Draymond Green says Kevin Hart's trash talking gave Warriors 'a little added motivation'

The Sixers faithful came out to South Philadelphia in droves on Monday night to watch the class of the NBA come through town. The star power of the Warriors certainly attracted some celebrities to the front row of the Wells Fargo Center last night as comedian Kevin Hart was seen chatting it up with the enemy for most of the contest.

Hart actually rang the ceremonial bell before the game got started and has been seen at a couple of Sixers games this season. This was the first one in which he was talking smack to Warriors' big man Draymond Green, however.

Draymond took notice and talked about the atmosphere after the game.

"It's definitely a great energy in this building," Green said. "It's usually like that every time we come here but then you throw Kevin [Hart] in there talking [smack] the whole game, it definitely makes it fun. It's one of those games where it gives you a little added motivation when you've got a guy sitting there talking. I think it's fun for us, it's fun for them, it's good to see them drawing crowds like that after the few years they've had, putting this franchise back together. It's amazing to see."

While the Wells Fargo Center certainly threw Steph Curry off from deep, the lack of rim protection from the Sixers pretty much allowed the Warriors to cruise out of Philly with a win.

USA Today Sports photo

You can watch Draymond speaking about the atmosphere in the above video or Kevin Hart ringing the bell below:

 

Remember when the Sixers had rim protection?

Remember when the Sixers had rim protection?

In a lot of ways, it was a commendable effort from the 76ers last night against the Golden State Warriors. Despite being undermanned and badly outclassed, the Sixers fought hard against the teams' talent gap and managed to keep it... well, maybe not close exactly, but respectable at the very least, with the Dubs never able to achieve total escape velocity. They ultimately won 119-108, but it was the kind of game that makes you think yeah, but when reinforcements return, we're really gonna be humming. Then, of course, you look at the Sixers bench and go "...oh." 

A week after Nerlens Noel was traded for an expired Applebee's gift card and Ben Simmons was strapped to a pair of mattresses and sent to his room for the season's remainder, the 76ers announced that Joel Embiid was "out indefinitely" with further knee swelling, a message interpreted by most Sixers smarties as JoJo likely being out for the year. As with Simmons, it's better to know now and make peace with it than have to deal with the news being newly frustrating with each period of further two-to-four-game absences. And as with Simbo, it's really just kinda... c'mon, man, is this EVER gonna end?

Last night was a good demonstration of why when you have two rim-protecting centers on your roster and one of them is always hurt, you probably hold onto the second one as long as you can. The Warriors somehow only shot 6-29 from three at the WFC -- including 0-11 from bombing GOAT Stephen Curry -- but they paraded to the basket, with virtually no resistance from the Sixers' bigs. (Richaun Holmes did have three blocks, which made him something like 3-19 at the defensive rim in this one.) 

Of course, trade defenders would argue that that's sort of the point for this season, that we want to lose games like this and continue ascending the lottery hierarchy, as this is a lost season anyway at this point. Fair enough, but the Sixers still have seasons to play after this one, and how confident are you in Joel Embiid playing 50 games a year anytime soon? This is one of the biggest reasons why the "you don't pay a backup center 15-20 million a year" case was so fallacious -- we weren't paying for an emergency understudy, we were paying for someone who was probably going to end up starring a whole lot. And now we don't have either, and that's not great.

At least we still have Dario, who continues to impress more with every outing: a 21-7-7 in this one, even with his jumper looking like someone constantly trying to remind himself how exactly shooting works. (He's down to 31% from deep now, which will eventually be a problem, but given how his shooting improved every year overseas, you have to hope he'll eventually be able to do the same in the States.) And kudos once more to defensive monster Robert Covington, whose four steals in this one now give him seven games with at least three swipes, tied with Rajon Rondo for the longest streak of the last three seasons. Those two dudes alone make the team worth watching, even when Jahlil Okafor has nearly as many combined fouls and turnovers (12) as he does minutes played (17). 

The Sixers' 29th game of the season against the Miami Heat comes up on Wednesday, so expect Hassan Whiteside to put up a 40-30 and get to sit most of the fourth quarter. It might not officially be time yet to call it a season and see if it's not too late to get excited about NCAA conference tournament play, but it's getting there.