John Smallwood: Panic not the answer for Phillies, Amaro

Posted: July 07, 2010

THE SEASON is more than half over, the trading deadline is fast approaching, and still there is no clear path to what the Phillies should or should not do.

Even after last night's 11-inning, 6-3 loss to the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, the Phillies remain in the thick of the race for the division title.

But it's also clear that for various reasons, ranging from injury to underachievement, this team has enough question marks to cast doubt on whether it will be relevant when the playoff race starts to wind down in September.

If I'm Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., I'm waiting this out for a while. I'm not going to panic. I'll leave that to my disgruntled fans.

No matter the complaints, I'm not rushing into a drastic move now. Depending on the circumstances, I might not make a significant one later.

I'm not cleaning out what's left of my farm system to get pitching help or add a legitimate, major league-caliber infielder to fill in for injured second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco.

Before last night's game, Amaro said he would deal a player off the major league roster if he felt it would improve the team.

"Obviously, I don't want to weaken my club," he said, "but if I have to weaken one area to strengthen another, I might do that."

I think everyone knows that the Phillie most likely to be traded would be free-agent-to-be rightfielder Jayson Werth, and if prospect Domonic Brown is indeed ready, that would make sense.

But right now, I'm not contemplating deleting Werth. If I'm Amaro, I'm more interested in Werth returning to the form he began the season with, when he looked like an MVP candidate. I'm also looking for a few other guys to start raising their standards.

Amaro has to keep working the phones, but he also has to know that if the Phillies are to make a surge in the second half, it will come from internal solutions, not external ones.

As simple as it sounds, the only answer for the Phillies is that guys already on the roster must start producing more consistently.

As Amaro put it before last night's game, it's time for the "big boys'' to step up and shoulder the load.

The wait continues.

It was certainly good to see Raul Ibanez hit his seventh home run of the season, a two-run shot in the first inning that gave the home team a 2-1 lead. Still, the Phillies remain plagued by mistakes and missed opportunities they can no longer afford.

The little things already have started to mean a lot. Starter Cole Hamels' line wasn't bad, giving up three runs on eight hits in seven innings, but he earned his no-decision. Hamels is 6-7 with an ERA of 4.05, because he still has moments that can quickly turn good into so-so or bad. Hamels had two outs in the seventh inning of a 2-2 game when he gave up a home run to Martin Prado on a 1-2 pitch.

Moments like that have happened much too much over the last season and a half. Hamels has to clean that up. This team's margin for error is too thin.

To be fair, the fact that Hamels still hit for himself in the sixth inning, having already thrown 100 pitches, says a lot about manager Charlie Manuel's trust in his beleaguered bullpen.

But that's the point. This is the new status quo for the Phillies. They will dance on the edge for the rest of the season. Guys must dig deeper, find more than they think they have.

Hamels' teammates should have picked him up. The opportunities were there. With the Phillies trailing, 3-2, in the seventh, Ibanez got a leadoff walk and Ryan Howard tripled him home.

With the lead run on third, no outs and fill-ins Greg Dobbs and Wilson Valdez hitting behind him, Werth had to be the one to get Howard home.

He looked at a third strike.

Pinch-hitter Ben Francisco flied out to shallow center and Valdez ended the inning, and the threat, with a groundout.

In the 10th, with two outs and a runner at second, Dane Sardinha could have won the game with a hit, but flied out. The Braves then scored three runs in the 11th.

"At the end of the day, our team should be able to handle the loss offensively of a couple of these guys," Amaro said.

That's why Amaro should be extremely cautious on the trade front.

If the key players already wearing red can't handle their business any better, it won't matter what kind of deal Amaro might make because it won't be enough.

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