Fresh batch of Phils might produce a winner

Phillies' Ben Revere stops to watch Humberto Quintero after he homered to right field and bringing him home against the Braves during the second inning. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)
Phillies' Ben Revere stops to watch Humberto Quintero after he homered to right field and bringing him home against the Braves during the second inning. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer) (Steven M. Falk)
Posted: July 09, 2013

It has been tough watching the Phillies this season, as every fan knows. Maybe a slightly different perspective will help.

Consider this weekend series from the point of view of a diehard Atlanta fan (assuming there is such a creature). Sure, the Braves are in first place in the National League East. Losing two of three in Philadelphia is hardly a crisis.

But apply your Phillies-fan dread to the Braves, and the picture changes.

Their stud young outfielder, Jason Heyward, is hitting .229 with seven home runs and is well on his way to being a certified bust. The Phillies' stud young outfielder, Domonic Brown, crushed his 23d homer of the season on Sunday and is on his way to the All-Star Game.

The Braves' offseason acquisition in center field, B.J. Upton, is hitting .175 in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million contract. The Phillies are paying Ben Revere half-a-million bucks to flirt with .300.

Veteran Braves second baseman Dan Uggla is hitting .205 with 16 homers in 81 games. Veteran Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is hitting .281 with 11 homers in 60 games.

Heck, as hard as it is getting excited about Delmon Young, would you rather have his .274/.325/.435 for $750,000 or Justin Upton's .243/.347/.437 for $9.75 million?

The point is, if the teams were reversed, Phillies fans would be dead certain that first place was a tenuous, temporary perch and that the other team was on the rise. And if that isn't exactly guaranteed - the Phillies have their own issues, thank you - it is a perspective worth considering.

Here's why.

That outsider's view illustrates something about the Phillies that's harder to observe from up close. They may have run low on the winning formula that sustained them from 2007 through 2011, but there's no stopping them from mixing up a new batch.

Charlie Manuel has the ultimate insider's view. On Saturday, the manager was discussing what it would take for this team to make its customary second-half charge into the playoff race.

"We have to get the normal production out of [Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins]," Manuel said. "I'm not saying Howard has to hit 50 home runs again, but he's still got to be a 100-RBI guy. If Utley hadn't missed time, he might be where he should be. Jimmy is normally a second-half hitter, too."

Within hours of that comment, Howard was placed on the disabled list. Here was a not-very-subtle message from the baseball cosmos that relying on the old formula was not going to work.

For the Phillies to make a second-half run, it is going to be Revere, not Rollins, emerging as a run-scoring machine in the leadoff spot. It is going to be Brown, not Howard, putting up big power and RBI numbers. It is going to be Darin Ruf or Delmon Young or Michael Young filling the role Jayson Werth once played in the lineup.

The Phillies have played two games since Howard went on the DL - not exactly a useful sample size. The first was a mess, a 13-4 loss. But the second was a glimpse of what we're talking about here.

Brown hit an RBI triple and scored on a Delmon Young single in the first. Ruf doubled with Young on first in the fourth inning. Both scored when Revere poked a ball into the gap in left-center and blazed around for a triple. Brown hit his 23d home run of the season in the fifth.

Clearly, Brown has emerged as a very good power hitter. But it is another thing entirely to carry an offense through the long, hot summer nights of a pennant race. That is something Howard was able to do for a few of the greatest seasons in franchise history. It will be fun to watch Brown face the challenge.

Utley and Rollins remain important. If Howard can return at something approaching 100 percent, he can still be a difference maker. This isn't about completely clearing the decks.

It's just about moving ahead with some different ingredients in the formula. The NL East remains a division waiting for a team to take command. That's something else fans of the Braves, as well as the Nationals, can tell you.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter.

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