"That's the good part," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I've always said, if you don't beat the teams in your division, you don't deserve to be in. It's there for us."
The division has not been kind to the Phillies thus far. They have won just 10 of their 24 division games, and are 2-4 against the first-place Nationals. But Manuel feels that a team such as the Nationals is bound to go into a slump at some point. His hope is that the Phillies can take advantage with the kind of extended run of success that has eluded them.
"I think there are going to be teams in our division that get hot and cold," Manuel said, "and hopefully we can play better than we have been so far and we can back in the running and we can run off that streak."
One of the big keys is getting stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back off the disabled list. Utley, who has had chronically sore knees, could return to the team by the end of the month. Howard, who is recovering from a left Achilles' tendon injury, might not be back until after the All-Star break. But even if both players end up back in the lineup and perform at their usual levels, the Phillies must improve the consistency of their pitching, from the rotation to the bullpen. In particular, they need either Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick, or both, to iron out the kinks that have plagued them over the past few starts.
In previous seasons, the Phillies have been able to rely on outside additions to provide them with a spark. Last year, rookie righthander Vance Worley earned a regular turn in the rotation midway through the season. In 2010, the Phillies traded for Roy Oswalt. In 2009, they got J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez. And in 2008, Blanton was the acquisition who helped stabilize the pitching staff.
This year, the Phillies hope that Roy Halladay will provide a similar boost when he returns from a strained lat. Until then, there are no obvious options outside of the ones currently in Philadelphia.
"Right now, I'd say it's kinda what we got, but anytime somebody gets going good down there [in the minors] or we feel like he can help us up here, I'm sure that will come into play," Manuel said. "But I'd say right now, it's kind of what we have."
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