Inside the Phillies: Phillies face pivotal series with Braves, Nationals as trade deadline nears

Posted: July 27, 2012

The Phillies we just saw win four games in a row at Citizens Bank Park and eight of 12 since the all-star break are a lot like one of those television programs that air after a sporting event surpassed its allotted time slot.

They joined this season already in progress.

So what do we make of these Phillies as they begin a three-game series Friday night in Atlanta?

Does anybody outside their clubhouse really believe they can catch and pass the pack of teams in front of them to qualify for a postseason spot?

Was this stretch of good baseball more a byproduct of playing bad teams like Colorado and Milwaukee?

Should general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. still sell now so he can buy later?

Let's first examine why we've seen a turnaround since the Phillies battery of Jonathan Papelbon and Carlos Ruiz combined for the final out of the All-Star Game.

The two most obvious reasons are second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard.

Neither has overly impressive numbers since the break, but they have brought three things to the table that were sorely missing: power, patience, and chemistry.

As impressed as we all were with Freddy Galvis' magic in the field during the first two months of the season, his glove could not make up for his .254 on-base percentage. He walked seven times in 200 plate appearances. Utley, by comparison, has drawn eight walks since the all-star break and has a .400 on-base percentage in that time period.

Add in Howard's seven walks and .391 on-base percentage since the break and it means that the three and four hitters are frequently getting on base with this year's team MVP Ruiz batting directly behind them. That's good for an offense.

Utley and Howard have also combined for six home runs and 19 RBIs since the break and both have an OPS north of .900.

No numbers can define what they mean inside the clubhouse, but you can see and feel an air of confidence when you walk in the room.

The bullpen in general and the relievers in front of closer Papelbon in particular have shown signs of improvement.

Michael Schwimer has been credited with victories in the last two games, but more relevant is the fact that he has a 2.33 ERA in his last 22 games and opponents are hitting just .212 against him in that span. Kyle Kendrick has also added some stability to the pen, pitching 71/3 scoreless innings and winning two games in relief since the break.

There are still, however, plenty of reasons to have doubts about this team.

Roy Halladay has returned to the starting rotation, but he has not been anywhere close to the form that made him the ace of all clubs when he joined the Phillies in 2010.

Cliff Lee still has only one win in 17 starts. He has one great start, one mediocre start, and one bad one since the break.

Cole Hamels, of course, signed on for at least six more years Wednesday and begins the rest of his Phillies career Friday against the Braves.

If the Phillies are going to make a run, they need Halladay, Lee, and Hamels to all pitch like aces from this point on. If that does not happen, the slim chance for a postseason berth becomes none.

The good news for Amaro is that he should be able to get a better read on his team this weekend in Atlanta than he did during the three-game series against a Brewers bullpen that considers games a giveaway item every time the relievers take the mound.

As well as the last-place Phillies have played since the break, they have made up only a half-game on the Braves, who would currently be the National League's second wild-card team. The Phillies have made up zero ground on the first-place Washington Nationals, who are 14 games ahead of them.

Amaro admitted that his decisions before Tuesday's non-waiver deadline will be dictated some by what transpires in the coming days.

"We're just going to try to improve the club as much as we can, whether it's improving for 2012 and beyond or 2013 and beyond," he said. "A lot will be dictated by the way we play."

If the Phillies take two out of three from the Braves this weekend and close the gap just a little bit more, it may mean this core group that has won so many games in the past is going to be given an opportunity to pull off a miracle.

It's also possible that regardless of what happens at Turner Field, the Phillies are going to try to move Joe Blanton and Shane Victorino for payroll relief.

Regardless of what happens before Tuesday's deadline, we'll have a better idea about this team's chances in 2012 once they return from this road trip to Atlanta and Washington.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or on Twitter @brookob.

 

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