David Murphy: Phillies' clubhouse keeps the faith

Jimmy Rollins is greeted after his single scored Carlos Ruiz in the 12th inning to beat the Giants, 4-3. RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Jimmy Rollins is greeted after his single scored Carlos Ruiz in the 12th inning to beat the Giants, 4-3. RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: July 24, 2012

FOR MOST OF the last 2 weeks, the veterans in the Phillies' clubhouse have expressed confidence about the team's ability to eliminate its massive deficit in the standings and climb back into the postseason race. On Sunday, the Phillies followed the blueprint for how it will need to be done. They produced eight innings of solid starting pitching and four innings of scoreless relief. They received important contributions from several players who spent much of the first half of the season absent, or close to it. They overcame two deficits. Most important, they added a notch to their win column, snapping a seven-game home losing streak with 4-3 victory over the Giants that was capped by a walkoff single by Jimmy Rollins in the 12th inning.

The $178 million question is whether they can do it for the next 66 games, or at least 70 percent of them. That is the rate at which they will need to win in order to finish with 88 wins and a realistic chance at one of the two National League wild-card spots. The feeling expressed by the front office has always been one of hope, a belief that the return of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Roy Halladay will lead to a second-half surge. The feeling expressed by the clubhouse is stronger than that.

"It's not a feeling that you have," Rollins said, "it's a fact. And when we do it, that's a different story. We have the horses now."

With deficits of 14 games in the division and 10 1/2 games in the wild-card race, the Phillies will need to notch plenty more victories before the faith of the general public matches their own. More important might be the faith of the general manager, who has 8 days to decide what course of action to take with regard to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Ruben Amaro Jr. has consistently downplayed the possibility of a fire sale, but the potential for change is significant. While the Phillies continue to work hard at reaching an agreement on a contract extension with Cole Hamels, there has been no evidence of such talks with Shane Victorino. Despite the first-half struggles of Victorino and the two home runs hit Sunday by John Mayberry Jr., his would-be replacement, the decision to trade the centerfielder would all but eliminate hope of a sixth straight playoff berth.

Whether Amaro has seen enough over the last nine games to impact his strategy is debatable. The Phillies have won five of their last eight games, and two of the exceptions have seen them blow leads and then lose in extra innings. But the late-inning defeats are nothing new. Eight times this season they have lost after entering the eighth inning with a lead, and Sunday's win was just their third in 12 extra-inning games.

In 2011, the Phillies' best 66-game stretch saw them win 47 games. And the vast majority of the players who produced that stretch are in the fold. Utley, who missed most of the first 3 months with a knee condition, hit an RBI triple in the first inning on Sunday. Carlos Ruiz scored the winning run after drawing a pinch-hit walk. Antonio Bastardo struck out the side in the ninth to preserve the tie, and Kyle Kendrick pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win. On Monday, Halladay will make his second start since returning from the disabled list. Two players who were not involved in last year's run also had significant contributions in the win over the Giants, Joe Blanton holding San Francisco to three runs in eight innings and Laynce Nix moving Ruiz from first to third with a single in the 12th.

The flip side can be found in a litany of factors, from the three-game losing streak that preceded Sunday's win to the production that can reasonably be expected from Howard, who is hitting .182 since returning, and Utley, who is hitting .231. Not to mention the bullpen, which has yet to show that it can succeed with any more frequency than some random Sunday.

"I try to figure out the best way for us to win the game, who I can play who can help us today to try to get it right," manager Charlie Manuel said. "If we get new players, that's part of the game. We'll see. We're here to win games. We've been having a hard time, as you know. But at the same time, I look for us to get better."

The loyalties of the players and coaching staff lie in the here and now. The front office does not have that luxury. n

Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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