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YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Starter John Lannan wipes his face before being replaced in the sixth inning.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Starter John Lannan wipes his face before being replaced in the sixth inning.
Posted: June 25, 2013

THERE WAS doubt in Charlie Manuel's voice. There was also a bit of incredulity. For most of the last 2 months, the manager has been honest when asked about his team's ability to fight its way back into playoff contention. So when Manuel was asked if he ever wonders whether his team is capable of doing so, his answer was hardly a shock.

"Yeah," he said after yesterday's 8-0 loss to the Mets ended a homestand in which they dropped two of three to one of the National League East's doormats. "I wonder if we can do that. Yes."

The pertinent issue is the extent of wonder that exists inside the front office, where general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and club president David Montgomery are responsible for operating with a longer view than their manager, whose contract will expire after the season. The adage says that a team is what its record says, and after this latest loss, there isn't much reason to believe they will ever be anything more than what they are - a 36-40 team that struggles to score runs and hold leads.

It is no surprise that the Phillies struggled against young fireballer Matt Harvey, who had held them to four runs in 20 1/3 innings in three previous starts. Harvey is good, the lineup he faced is not, and that's that. The real takeaway from yesterday is that the Phillies cannot realistically expect their pitching to make up for their offensive shortcomings. That pretty much eliminates any shot they might have at rolling off the streak of wins they need to climb back into the playoff chase.

John Lannan is a decent No. 5 starter when he is backed by a bullpen solid enough to allow a manager to pull him from a game at the first sign of trouble. Yesterday, that came early in the fifth inning, when Harvey and Eric Young mashed a pair of one-out RBI doubles against him. But the Phillies' bullpen is not that kind of unit, especially now that veteran setup man Mike Adams is on the disabled list for the second time in a month (the official diagnosis is biceps tendinitis). So Lannan stayed in the game, yielded an RBI double to David Wright, then allowed the first three batters he faced in the sixth to reach base before departing. The Mets took a 6-0 lead into the bottom half of the frame, and the game was lopsided enough that the umpires tried their hardest to ignore a crowd-scattering downpour before calling for the tarps.

The only question now is how soon the Phillies' front office acknowledges that the veterans on its roster are more valuable to the organization as trade chips than as uniformed employees.

The rest of the majors appear to think that the time will come sooner rather than later. Chase Utley's return to the lineup after a month on the disabled list with a strained oblique was accompanied by an influx of veteran professional scouts from playoff contenders like the Giants and the Yankees. Both could be in the market for a hitter fitting the second baseman's profile. In addition to Utley, catcher Carlos Ruiz and third baseman Michael Young are scheduled to become free agents and could be attractive to various teams looking to shore up their rosters before the stretch run.

"I think that they realize the valuable players on our team," Manuel said of his front office. "I definitely think that. If you have some front-line players - it would have to take something really big for them to pry them away. That's how I look at it. If they can improve our team, they will."

The two most valuable chips at the Phillies' disposal are likely closer Jonathan Papelbon and starter Cliff Lee, either of whom could land the kind of potential-laden, near-major-league-ready hitters the organization currently lacks. Of course, the Phillies already have traded Lee once, and none of the players they acquired then have made an impact in the majors (nor, for that matter, have any of the players acquired for Lee by the Mariners and Indians).

The biggest benefit of conceding 2013 could be the opportunity it provides the Phillies to evaluate the younger players who could factor into the equation for 2013 and beyond: Cesar Hernandez at second base, Cody Asche at third base, Darin Ruf in the outfield, and a host of pitchers in the bullpen. For Manuel, though, such a concession could mean the end of his 9-year run as manager. The non-waiver trade deadline is July 31. The Phillies' upcoming road trip against the Padres, Dodgers and Pirates will take them through July 4.

"I come to the ballpark every day, and I do the same thing," Manuel said. "I try to stay focused on us winning the game. I don't feel pressure at all."

Upstairs, the pressure mounts with each loss.


On Twitter: @HighCheese

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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