Inside the Phillies: Phillies ready to move into full sell mode

Posted: July 31, 2012

ATLANTA - What does it mean when the games don't mean anything anymore?

A decade has passed since the Phillies have had so little to play for so early in a season.

Manager Larry Bowa's 2002 team, the last Phillies squad that failed to post a winning record, was also out of contention by this point in the summer.

Former general manager Ed Wade conducted his primary order of business that year exactly 10 years ago Sunday by sending a disgruntled Scott Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and Bud Smith.

Rolen, you may recall, declared that he had died and gone to Baseball Heaven, but later reconsidered when he grew to despise manager Tony "La Rucifer."

The Phillies moved on without Rolen, reinvigorating the fan base during the offseason with the free-agent signings of first baseman Jim Thome and third baseman David Bell. Wade also acquired Atlanta pitcher Kevin Millwood.

It didn't all work out, but it was a step in the right direction for a franchise that had been battling irrelevance for years.

The 2012 Phillies do not have the same issues as that team a decade ago.

Pending free agents who could be traded before Tuesday's deadline will feel as though they are leaving Baseball Heaven rather than ascending to a higher place.

It will be a sad day if Shane Victorino is dealt.

"He's been part of everything we've accomplished around here," manager Charlie Manuel said Sunday after the Atlanta Braves shoveled dirt on the Phillies by completing a three-game sweep at Turner Field.

"Phenomenal" is how pitcher Joe Blanton described his Philadelphia experience after a strong outing Saturday night enhanced his trade value. "I came over, we won a World Series, went back again, and we've been in the playoffs every year I've been here. It's one of the best places to play with the fans and everything."

Given how unhappy all those fans are right now and the fact that the Phillies have the highest payroll in the National League, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. does not have the same luxury as his predecessors. Team president David Montgomery and his ownership partners will want this year's mess fixed, pronto, and that's why even though these games have ceased to have any meaning in the standings for the Phillies, they still have a lot of individual meaning.

We saw exactly why Sunday afternoon.

Even in defeat, righthander Roy Halladay could claim a small victory with the way he pitched in his third start since returning from the shoulder issue that sent him to the disabled list in late May.

After surrendering three runs on six hits - including a long home run by Chipper Jones - in the first three innings, Halladay finished his outing by retiring 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, including 10 in a row. It was the kind of finish that Halladay can build on.

"It was a good step," Halladay said before explaining how he has changed some mechanics since his return.

One small step for Halladay still couldn't prevent one giant leap backward for the Phillies, and that's why Amaro boarded the charter flight for Washington on Sunday night in full seller mode.

"I guess there will be lots of Phillies activity in the next 48 hours," a baseball scout said.

And then the games will continue.

"It's nothing that we aren't all responsible for," Halladay said. "There are times you have to take your lumps. It's not easy to swallow, but we've kind of all put ourselves in this situation, and sometimes you have to kind of take it like a man."

Nothing could be more encouraging for the Phillies in these final weeks than to have Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching close to their former selves by the end of the season.

Lee will pitch again Tuesday against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals in the nation's capital. The result won't matter in the standings, but a Lee victory over Strasburg would have significance for the $120 million pitcher with an Omar Daal-like win total.

These final two months are also vital for second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard. They need to get at-bats to make up for all that lost time during the first half of the season. Howard struck out eight times in 11 at-bats during the three-game series in Atlanta, and this offseason will be the most important of his career.

"We have no choice but to keep playing," Halladay said. "Regardless of what we did coming into this and what we've got in front of us, I think we owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to a lot of people . . . to go out and turn things around and play better baseball. It's going to be hard, and obviously we're in a substantial hole, but we need to prove some things to ourselves and get things going in the right direction."


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

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