Even after Sunday's 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants in 12 innings, the Phillies are just 4-4 since the break. They needed a much better start to hold onto even a minute chance of making the playoffs.
They are still double-digits out of the final National League wild-card spot with 11 teams, including division leaders, in front of them.
It's virtually impossible for the Phillies to make the playoffs.
Eventually, the teams in front of them are going to play each other which means somebody is going to win.
That's bad for the Phillies because not only did they need to win big but they needed everyone else to lose big.
But even with the astonishing decline of this team, which won a franchise record 102 games in 2011 but is out of the 2012 race before August, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro has repeatedly said he has no intention of gutting the lineup and starting again from ground zero.
Amaro couldn't, even if he wanted to.
Other teams have the same questions about the high-priced players a lot of Phillies fans are complaining about.
If you want to get rid of a guy because you believe he is overpaid and/or underachieving, what makes you think somebody else will want him?
Still, changes have to be made.
This roster has to be improved to have any expectation of rebounding in 2013.
That means the Phillies can't afford to simply be sellers at the trade deadline. They have to be buyers, too.
Amaro has to make sure that any move he makes in the next 2 weeks brings back some pieces that will enhance the 2013 team.
This can't be all about restocking the minor league system with low-level prospects.
If the Phillies ultimately decide to trade top-of-the-rotation, in his prime, lefthanded starting pitcher Cole Hamels, Amaro has to get considerably more than what he got when he traded Cliff Lee to Seattle in 2010.
Not that pitchers Phillippe Aumount and J.C. Ramirez plus outfielder Tyson Gillies have lived up to being prospects worth a talent like Lee, but even if they were on track to be major league contributors in the next few years, the Phillies don't have a few years to wait.
As much as some disgruntled fans may disagree, the window of opportunity on this current group has not totally closed.
If you trade Hamels, you have to get one or two players in return who are capable of stepping in and filling a position of need next season.
Actually, the Phillies should be able to get more than just fliers if they act on any of their players who are most rumored to be available — Hamels, starting pitcher Joe Blanton and outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.
Ironically, while the second wild card is going to directly help the Phillies, it does make the trade market better for them as sellers.
With more teams in the playoff race, more teams could get desperate to solidify their chances.
Even with the MLB playoffs expanded to five teams per league, that's still just 10 postseason spots for 30 teams playing a 162-game season.
Nobody wants to regret missing out on a shot at the World Series because they were too cautious at the trade deadline.
Just think about what the Phillies gave up to get Lee, Roy Oswalt and Pence to make recent pennant runs.
Of course, the usual suspects, well except for the Phillies, are in the mix, but the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since Barry Bonds left after 1992, are currently leading the National League wild card.
The Baltimore Orioles, who haven't had a winning record since winning the American League East in 1997, are tied at the top of wild-card race.
They are closer than they've ever been to the playoffs since 1996 and 1997, when they lost in the ALCS 2 years in a row. Is holding on to a AAA prospect worth missing out on a player who could finally put you over the hump to success?
What would the long-suffering fan bases in Pittsburgh and Baltimore think about a decision like that?
Then there are teams like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, who have invested a lot of money to win the World Series now, not a season or two from now.
With so many teams in position to challenge for two wild-card spots per league, it's more of a seller's market than usual.
What the Phillies have to offer in trades are veteran players who know how to deal with the pressure of playing in and winning pennant races.
That's a rare and valuable intangible to be able to pick up at the trade deadline.
Yes, the Phillies are going to be sellers, but they need to treat any transaction they make like they are buying for 2013. n
Contact John Smallwood at firstname.lastname@example.org