It has been a long time since the all-star break felt this much like a reprieve from the governor. For four blissful days, there will be no blown leads; no strikeouts in the clutch; no defensive slapstick; no at-bats by John Mayberry Jr., Mike Fontenot, or Ty Wigginton.
Sunday's 4-3 loss to Atlanta was one for the time capsule. The ballpark that used to vibrate with anticipation was half-empty for the bottom of the ninth. Those traffic-beating fans who used to regret what they missed were instead spared another lame final at-bat by the home team. The clubhouse that has been lined with plastic and sprayed with champagne felt like a Greyhound bus station.
Which is worse, Shane Victorino being so down in the dumps that Charlie Manuel scratched him from the lineup? Or that most fans' immediate reaction to the change was hope that it meant Victorino was being traded? This season has gone so profoundly sideways that any kind of change, even the discarding of a bona fide hero of 2008, would be welcome.
"We've had a real tough first half," Manuel said. "Everything that could happen has happened."
All along, the hope was that a first-class rotation, a lockdown closer, and a patchwork lineup could keep the team afloat until injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley returned. That didn't happen. Howard and Utley have returned, but the team is 37-50 - 13 games below the surface.
The reasons for this face-plant are manifold: The rotation has underperformed; injuries and ineptitude in the bullpen have made the closer irrelevant all too often; and regulars such as Rollins, Victorino, and Hunter Pence have not done their part to hold it together.
The question at this point was supposed to be whether the reinforcements - Utley, Howard, and, soon, Roy Halladay - could lift the team to a second-half surge and a playoff berth. The question now has shifted to whether the Phillies should declare a fire sale at the trade deadline.
The answer requires a little more nuance than a simple yes or no. It would be a mistake for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. to overreact and do anything that diminishes this team for 2013. The Phillies cannot, should not dump elite players and pitchers for prospects who may or may not help them in 2015 or '16.
The window for this team is cracked, not closed. It can be repaired. There are too many players who can't be moved, either because of contract or age or health or some combination, to shift into a complete rebuild. We're talking Howard, Utley, Rollins, Halladay, and Jonathan Papelbon - those guys are the nucleus, like it or not.
At the same time, it would be a mistake for Amaro to whiff on opportunities to upgrade the team for 2013. If you assume needs at third base and at least two outfield positions, plus the entire bullpen other than Papelbon, there are plenty of areas to improve. Whether that means getting pieces in return or creating salary flexibility, Amaro has to consider moving Victorino, Pence, and one of his starting pitchers.
It still seems absurd that this team could lose Cole Hamels after committing $210 million for Halladay, Papelbon, and Cliff Lee. But if, after a cold-eyed assessment of the situation, the Phillies sense they can't get a long-term deal done with him, they have to get maximum return for Hamels.
It would be a high-risk trade, the kind of move that ultimately could define Amaro's tenure here. It would be better to avoid it and get a contract done, even if that means dealing Lee again. But if the focus has to shift to 2013, losing Hamels after the season for virtually nothing is not an acceptable outcome.
Plenty of fans are angry enough at Amaro and Manuel already. The passion is understandable, but it just makes no sense to dismiss five years of winning baseball and annual trips to the postseason. Not after half a season defined by so many injuries.
That said, it would help to see some life from this team in the second half. Otherwise, as a wise old shortstop once said: "Don't waste your time, guys."
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan