Let's preface this by saying, "I wouldn't get your hopes up."
With that warning out of the way, there are reasons, if you're an optimist, to think this season is still salvageable for the Phillies.
During Charlie Manuel's tenure (2004 to the present), the Phillies own a .602 winning percentage in the second half. In that eight-year stretch, they were 397-263 after the All-Star Game. Never once since Manuel took the reigns have the Phillies finished worse than five games over .500 following the break (they were 40-35 in 2004).
•The Phillies know how to mount a comeback. Do you really need to be reminded about what transpired in 2007 when they were 7 games in back of the first-place New York Mets with 17 games to play and managed to clinch the National League East title on Sept. 30, the final day of the regular season?
•Ryan Howard is a big-time, second-half player. Allow me to re-iterate that: Ryan Howard is like a different player when the second half rolls around. The cleanup hitter's numbers, in every category, are better than in the first half. Some are much better. In eight fewer second-half games over the course of his career, Howard has more home runs (163 vs. 147), walks (315 vs. 272), intentional walks (82 vs. 61), RBIs (483 vs. 478) and runs scored (352 vs. 340). He also boasts a better batting average (.281 vs. 263), on-base percentage (.382 vs. 343) and slugging percentage (.581 vs. .516). And he's hit into 20 fewer double plays (33 vs. 53).
•This team keeps finding ways to pull out wins in games they seemingly have lost control of often enough so that you can't lose faith completely. Think back just to last weekend when they blew a 7-1 lead against the Mets and found themselves in a tie game as they headed to the bottom of the ninth inning only to come back and win on Kevin Frandsen's walkoff home run. Or look at this past week when the bullpen, one of baseball's worst, stitched together seven scoreless innings in the Phillies' 7-5 win over the Padres in extra innings on Wednesday.
•Assuming general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn't pull the trigger on a big trade, the club will still have guys named Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in their rotation. Maybe you've heard of them. Lee has been one of baseball's best pitchers this year and Hamels is far too talented to not turn things around his season.
•As long as no one else joins or rejoins the disabled list, the core will have been together for a legitimate amount of time, allowing everyone to gel. Last year in the first half, which Chase Utley and Howard missed most of, the Phillies were 37-50. Once they rejoined the team shortly before the All-Star break, things slowly got better, and they went 44-31 in the second half.
Word of caution: Be aware that this group may not play together long again.
•With the National League East's oldest starting lineup, injuries are bound to play a part, as they already have. Howard is playing on a bad knee, one that will likely require offseason surgery. Who really knows if it will even hold up that long? Utley's knees, particularly problematic in 2011-12, will never be considered healthy while he's still playing. Carlos Ruiz, although he's already been on the disabled list this season, is injury prone. He's been on the DL each of the last four years. Roy Halladay may not pitch again for the Phillies. Same goes for Mike Adams. And the status of Mike Stutes is still up in the air.
•The Phillies could be too far out of the second Wild Card spot when the trade deadline rolls around to keep this team together, and the demand for some players, especially Jonathan Papelbon, may be too great. And that might make it tough for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to turn away a trade that could bring the Phillies a young, talented hitter or a closer for the future.
•If Amaro gets the sense the organization won't be able to reach a deal with Utley and/or Ruiz, who will be free agents at the end of the season, two of the cornerstones of the 2008 World Series championship team could be traded away come July 31. There's no doubt there will be teams out there trying to make a run at the postseason willing to snatch up Utley for the second half. And there have already been rumors that the Yankees are interested in Ruiz.
•The bullpen pitchers, owners of the second-worst ERA (4.59) in the majors, appears to be locked in — Amaro is on the record earlier this week saying "he didn't have any solutions." So if someone (preferably multiple guys) already on the 25-man roster doesn't improve or re-invent himself, this team is in trouble. Even if Papelbon stays, it doesn't do much good to have a closer, who is making $13 million this year, if you have no bridge to him.
CATCHING UP WITH FORMER PHILLIE …. Nick Punto
The 35-year-old, who has bounced all around the infield, is hitting .264 (47-for-178) in 63 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has 12 RBIs, 21 runs scored and 19 walks. During a three-year stretch with the Phillies, Punto batted .223 (23-for-103) in 77 games.
DID YOU KNOW?
Because of having nine knee surgeries, Darren Daulton played in more than 100 games only five times in a single season. … Juan Samuel led the league in strikeouts from 1984-87. He struck out 168, 141, 142 and 162 times, respectively, and he wore three different numbers in the seven years he spent with the Phillies. … Chuck Klein is one of just five players in the N.L. to win the Triple Crown. He hit .368 with 28 home runs and 120 RBIs in 1933. … On Tuesday, the Phillies head to Pittsburgh for a three-game series. They are 14-24 at PNC Park.
.214 The batting average against for Tampa Bay relievers, which is the best in baseball. However, the Rays' bullpen owns an 11-14 record and has walked 101 hitters, tied for fifth most in MLB.