Take a Load Off, Bullpen: Lee Goes Seven, Phils Win 10-0

Take a Load Off, Bullpen: Lee Goes Seven, Phils Win 10-0

Coming off a series featuring two agonizing late-game losses, the Phils
owed it to their fans tonight to win their first game against the Mets
by fifteen or more. Sadly, the Phillie Phaithful in attendance had to
content themselves with a 10-0 nail-biter, in which the Phillies only
hit two home runs and in which Cliff Lee allowed a staggering half-dozen
baserunners in just seven innings of scoreless work. Ingrates.

Down a pair of starters in Jimmy Rollins (groin) and Raul Ibanez (bald),
the Phils' offense showed no signs of shorthandedness tonight, as the
boys strung together ten runs (the first eight each coming with two
outs) on 11 hits, with Chase being the only starter to post an 0-fer.
The two fill-ins performed more than adequately, as Wilson "You Can't
Get Rid of Me That Easily" Valdez punched home the first run of the
night with a double in the second and John "Put Me In Coach, I'm Ready
to Play" Mayberry "(Today)" Jr. blew the game open with a two-run blast
in the third. And Hunter Pence continues to own the NL East, homering for the second time in three games and coming around to score each of the four
times he reached base.

But as it so often has this summer, the night belonged to Cliff Lee.
Blowing up Met hitters like you thought he would—with some help from
home plate ump Mike DiMuro on a third-strike call or two, including a
particularly comical punch-out of Philly whipping boy David Wright—Cliff
was beautiful for seven scoreless innings tonight, walking an
uncharacteristic three but only allowing three base hits and racking up
seven K's. And has practically become rote for him, the Phife Dog wowed
at the plate as well, singling to keep a rally going in the second and
nearly homering in his last at bat in the eighth—after which he was
taken out of the game, receiving a standing O for his two-way efforts.

The Braves seem on their way to a win against the hapless Cubs in
Chicago, so the Phils' lead in the NL East should hold at 6.5 tonight,
but man, have you guys seen how far the D'Backs and Giants have fallen
out west? Well into a weeks-long match of one-downsmanship, the two
clubs have sunk to 14 and 15 games behind the Phils, respectively—and
all Philly really has to do is beat one of them to ensure a playoff
spot. I'm not smart enough to figure out what their magic number is yet
for that one, but suffice to say, it's not nearly as high as it should
be for a season that still has a month-plus to go. (Oh, and they also
clinched a winning record for the year tonight, the team's ninth in a
row. Whatevs, yo.)

Tomorrow night, Vance Worley goes up against Jon Niese for a chance to
NO WE'RE NOT F--ING LOSING TWO SERIES IN A ROW. 7:05 first pitch from
CBP. It was a long weekend—let's give our bullpen another day of rest if
we can, huh?

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

With Kings' unprotected 2019 pick, Sixers' future assets the envy of the NBA

It's difficult to understate how sweet the Sixers smell after the Kings' trade of DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans.

Yes, it removed another suitor from Jahlil Okafor trade talks, but that's not nearly as important as how much the Sacramento-New Orleans trade benefitted the Sixers moving forward.

And while many Sixers fans are rightfully jumping for joy today about the pick swap the Sixers have with the Kings in the 2017 draft, let's not forget about the 2019 pick.

Because no matter what happens with pick swaps, the Sixers own the Kings' unprotected 2019 first-round pick, which could legitimately be first overall given Sacramento's direction.

That 2019 pick now has immense value for several reasons:

Stripped-down Kings roster
Without Cousins, the Kings are right now probably one of the three worst teams in the NBA.

Their core is Darren Collison, Buddy Hield, Arron Afflalo, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Willie Cauley-Stein, Tyreke Evans, Ben McLemore, Anthony Tolliver. This team has 25 games left. How many can it win? Five?

Collison is their best remaining player, and he's a free agent after the season. This is going to be an incredibly challenging rebuild for the Kings, unless Hield and Cauley-Stein turn into stars.

Who is signing in Sac'to?
Sacramento is one of the league's smallest markets, and there has been front office discord there for years, along with a coaching carousel. Aside from Brooklyn, you can't find a worse free-agent destination. You can't find a tougher sell. 

Divac repeatedly said he'd never trade Cousins. Then he traded him. You tell me if agents and star players are going to trust the Kings enough to sign there without a no-trade clause.

And really, why would a free agent even want to sign there? The Kings have a bad core, a bad environment, and a bad draft pick situation moving forward. There is little upside.

Sure, Sacramento will be able to lure mid-tier free agents like the Lakers did with Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. But that isn't going to make them substantially better.

Sixers' remarkable collection of picks
The result of all this is the Sixers' future becomes even brighter. Basketball fans routinely look at the Celtics as having the best assets moving forward because of their pick swaps with cellar-dwelling Brooklyn. But the Sixers' assets now are arguably better because in addition to the pick swaps, they have the unprotected Sacramento pick.

And they have the Lakers' pick, which becomes fully unprotected next year if it doesn't convey this year.

And they have their own picks in 2018 and 2019.

And they have the Thunder's 2020 pick. 

And they have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric.

Today's a good day in Sixers land.

Here's a round-up of their future draft picks:

2017
• Pick swap with Kings

• Lakers pick (top-3 protected; becomes unprotected in 2018 if it doesn't convey)

• Two second-round picks

2018
• Their own first-round pick

• The Lakers' unprotected first-round pick if L.A. finishes 2017 with a bottom-three record

• Second-round pick from Cleveland or Brooklyn (whichever is higher)

• Second-round pick from Clippers or Knicks (whichever is higher)

2019
• Unprotected first-round pick from Kings

• Their own first-round pick

• Second-round pick from Knicks

• Second-round pick from Bucks or Kings (whichever is higher)

2020
• Their own first-round pick

• Thunder's first-round pick (top-20 protected in 2020, 2021 and 2022)

• Second-round pick from Nets

• Second-round pick from Knicks

Woah.

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stayed put in the national rankings this week.

The defending champion Wildcats remained the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press top-25 poll behind 24-0 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs received 59 first-place votes while Villanova received five votes. Kansas, which came in at No. 3, received the other No. 1 vote.

Villanova stayed where they were in the rankings after holding their own with two comfortable road wins, in large part thanks to sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson was the big man on campus this week, beginning with a team-high 18 points in a 75-62 win at DePaul on Monday. He followed it up with his first career double-double as he put together a 22-point, 10-assist effort in a blowout win over Seton Hall in Newark on Saturday.

The win over the Pirates meant the Wildcats clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year. One win in their last three regular season games or one loss each by Butler and Creighton would hand Villanova sole possession of the Big East crown. 

Therefore, it's only fitting that the Wildcats' next two games are against none other than Butler and Creighton. Butler handed Villanova its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the No. 22 Bulldogs now have to travel to Philadelphia for the rematch on Wednesday. The No. 23 Blue Jays then head to the Pavillion for a Saturday afternoon duel. The Wildcats beat Creighton, 80-70, on New Year's Eve in Omaha, Neb. 

At this point last season, Villanova had four losses (two in conference) and had just a one-game lead in the conference. This year, they have much more room for comfort, albeit with a tough week with two ranked opponents ahead of them. 

Behind the top three, which remained static this week, the Pac 12 had three teams ranked 4-6 – Arizona, UCLA and Oregon – in the poll this week. The ACC had six teams in the top 25, including No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Baylor, which lost to Kansas on Saturday, fell from No. 4 to No. 9.