Inside the Phillies: For all the first-half troubles, Phillies in better shape than last year

Cole Hamels has an unsightly record and ERA, but the ace is pitching better of late and is part of a solid starting rotation.
Cole Hamels has an unsightly record and ERA, but the ace is pitching better of late and is part of a solid starting rotation. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 15, 2013

Look back, and you'll see months of frustration for a Phillies team that has found the climb to Mount Mediocrity a monumental challenge.

You'll see Cole Hamels with an unsightly record and elevated earned run average.

You'll see Roy Halladay and his 8.65 ERA on an operating table in Southern California trying to keep his career alive.

You'll see Ryan Howard playing on one leg and stripped of the power that once placed him among the most feared hitters in baseball.

You'll see Jimmy Rollins with just three extra-base hits and zero home runs since the start of June.

You'll see Chase Utley taking another extended trip to the disabled list.

You'll see Mike Adams, the team's biggest free-agent addition, out for the season by the middle of June.

You'll see a pick-your-poison bullpen that has been the worst in the National League.

And finally, you'll see Ben Revere go out with a broken foot just when he was playing his best.

Look up, however, and you'll see a team that is still in considerably better shape at this all-star break than it was at the last one.

Thanks to Domonic Brown's arrival and the overall work of the starting rotation, the Phillies will return to work Friday against the New York Mets with a chance to make something good out of this season.

Brown, of course, was the Phillies' first-half MVP, which is why he'll arrive in New York this week ahead of most of his teammates as a first-time all-star. He'll be joined by Cliff Lee, whose name was floated in trade speculation at times during the first half. It would be shocking if the lefthander finishes the season anywhere other than Philadelphia.

Revere, the youngest player in the Phillies' starting lineup, had the best reversal of fortune in the first half, hitting .200 in April and well above .300 after that. He has given the Phillies reason to believe he is their centerfielder and leadoff hitter of the future.

Also on the positive side, the most under-told story has been the starting rotation.

Look at the overall statistics, and the Phillies rotation went into the final weekend before the all-star break ranked 10th among the 15 National League teams with a 3.94 ERA. Remove Halladay's numbers, however, and the rotation ERA drops to 3.65, which would rank seventh in the league despite Hamels' issues. Lee, Kyle Kendrick, and rookie Jonathan Pettibone have kept things together in the first half.

Look ahead, and it's at least fascinating to think about what we're going to see from the 2013 Phillies after the break.

The truth is, we still do not know what path general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is going to take at the trade deadline. He was leaning toward being a buyer as the weekend started, but a tough stretch of games to end the first half is going to be followed by an even tougher stretch to start the second.

The Mets have played good baseball this month and have the foundation for a quality starting rotation emerging. The Phillies will likely see all-star righthander Matt Harvey next Sunday before going to St. Louis and Detroit for six games. Those two teams entered the weekend with the lowest starting rotation ERAs in their respective leagues.

Circle July 29 on your trade-deadline calendar. It's an off day for the Phillies, and it has often been a "deal day" for Amaro. It is the date he acquired Cliff Lee from Cleveland in 2009, Roy Oswalt from Houston in 2010, and Hunter Pence from Houston in 2011.

If this team can remain in striking distance through the stops in St. Louis and Detroit, then Amaro should at least be looking for one reliever to help the young bullpen.

Maybe the Phillies can get lucky with someone like Luis Garcia, the haircutting kid who came out of nowhere to earn a big-league promotion last week. Some luck is certainly going to be needed if the Phillies are to make a run at a playoff berth.

Without question, the team's best trade chip is veteran third baseman Michael Young, because he's not going to be here next year and he'll be in demand for a contending team needing offensive help. If he can bring a bullpen arm, then Amaro must make that move because Cody Asche sure appears to be ready for the big leagues.

Regardless of the direction Amaro decides to go in the coming weeks, he should not blow up the entire roster. The only reason to trade Lee or closer Jonathan Papelbon is if the other team offers so much major-league-ready talent that you can't refuse. That's not likely to happen.

The decisions on Utley and Carlos Ruiz, two aging potential free agents after the season, are far more difficult. If you think you have a shot at the deadline, then you definitely keep them.

If not, then Amaro is faced with perhaps the two most difficult decisions of his tenure. A bad trade for either one of those two World Series heroes would not be quickly forgotten.

Look at the big picture, and it's still fuzzy where this season and this roster are headed.


Inside the Phillies: The Pursuit of .500

The Phillies spent most of the first half trying to clear the .500 hurdle, so in honor of that modest pursuit we offer their five best wins and five worst losses before the all-star break (Saturday's doubleheader not included).

FIVE BEST WINS

1. July 11 vs. Washington: The 3-1 victory over the Nationals, despite four errors, gave the Phillies five wins in seven days against the two teams in front of them in the National League East. It also came against all-star righthander Jordan Zimmermann.

2. July 4 at Pittsburgh: The 6-4 win allowed the Phillies to take two out of three games from the Pirates at PNC Park when Pittsburgh had the best record in baseball. It also included a strong outing by Cole Hamels that may signal a second-half surge for the lefthander.

3. June 26 at San Diego: Down by 5-2 after six innings, the Phillies took advantage of several Padres errors to pull out a 7-5 win in 13 innings. Two runs scored in the 13th on a Ben Revere grounder that did not leave the infield.

4. June 28 at Los Angeles: Facing the white-hot Dodgers, the Phillies collected a season-high 21 hits, including three by pitcher John Lannan, and won by 16-1. It was the first and only time they scored double-digit runs this season.

5. July 7 vs. Atlanta: The day after being pummeled by the Braves on national TV and being called out by their manager and general manager, rookie righthander Jonathan Pettibone provided a strong outing that allowed the Phillies to pull off a 7-3 win and a series victory.

FIVE WORST LOSSES

1. June 24 at San Diego: Up by 3-0 after eight sensational innings from Cliff Lee, the Phillies ace and closer Jonathan Papelbon coughed up the lead in the ninth, and the Phillies lost, 4-3, in the 10th inning. It was the fourth blown save in five games and eight days for Papelbon.

2. April 30 at Cleveland: Fresh from a three-game sweep against the Mets in New York, the Phillies were pounded, 14-2, by the Indians. They lost the next night, 6-0. In five Ohio games this season, including three in Cincinnati, the Phillies were outscored by 36-6.

3. April 3 at Atlanta: Roy Halladay surrendered five runs on six hits despite striking out nine in 31/3 innings, and the Phillies lost, 9-2, in the second game of their season. It was definitely a sign of things to come for Halladay and his injured right shoulder.

4. June 9 at Milwaukee: Three days after getting above .500 at 31-30 for the only time during the first half, the Phillies lost their third straight game to the Brewers, by a 9-1 score.

5. May 5 vs. Miami: In Halladay's seventh and final start before undergoing shoulder surgery, the two-time Cy Young Award winner was tagged for nine runs on four hits and four walks in 21/3 innings. The Phillies lost, 14-2, to a Marlins team that has the worst offense in baseball.

- Bob Brookover


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

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