COMMENTARY | The Philadelphia Phillies will start the official second half of the 2013 Major League Baseball season with 48 wins and 48 losses (it's actually 14 games beyond the actual midpoint for the Phillies, but the All-Star break is the traditional first half/second half line).
Some might look at this team as underachieving. Others might argue it's been better than probably it should be. The reality is both views are probably correct.
In early May, the Phillies lost one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball, Roy Halladay, to a shoulder injury. He may return before season's end, in this his contract year. The problem was before he got hurt, he wasn't pitching like the Halladay we knew anyway. He wasn't performing like that Roy Halladay last year, either. His velocity and pinpoint control were simply not there. The hope was it would be for this team to be a serious contender.
Earlier this month, the Phillies lost Ryan Howard to a knee injury. He may return before season's end as well. A few years ago, Ryan Howard was one of the most feared sluggers in the game, a sure bet to hit 40-plus homers and drive in something like 150 runs. Injuries have derailed him to the point where many wonder if he can ever be that Ryan Howard again. The hope was he'd be close to the vintage Howard for the Phillies to contend this season. He wasn't close.
Those are two pretty significant pieces to the success puzzle this team had in place. Even when they were on the field, they weren't performing to their accustomed levels. With that in mind, a .500 season seemed about as good as could be expected. That's exactly where the Phillies are right now.
They've been playing with a patchwork lineup, some patchy defense and a bullpen with pitchers featuring numbers in the 60s and 70s, meaning they could head back to the minor leagues at anytime. And yet there seems to be reason for optimism come the second half. The Phillies are in the middle of a brutal scheduling stretch that began with a 10-game road swing through San Diego against the Padres, Los Angeles against the Dodgers and Pittsburgh against the Pirates. The Dodgers and Pirates were two of the hottest teams in baseball at the time. The Phillies went 5-5 and lost a couple of games they should have won. But any .500 road trip is acceptable.
They returned home to face the two teams ahead of them in the National League East standings, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals. They went into the All-Star break with three games against the Chicago White Sox, and the Phillies usually struggle with American League teams. Like the road swing they had just completed, this homestand could have buried them as well. The Phillies went 7-3, and it could have been better with some good breaks.
Now they stand 6 1/2 games behind in the NL East and 5 1/2 games back in the wild card. The prevailing wisdom is when the trade deadline comes July 31, they'll likely hold on to the players they have with the possible exception of third baseman Michael Young, who has been getting a lot of attention from American League contenders in search of a designated hitter. But Young's contract has trade limitations, so there's a good chance he'll stay as well. In other words, the Phillies management believes this team can make a run at the postseason.
We'll know soon, because the rest of the brutal scheduling swing is about to begin with nine more road games, three against the rival New York Mets, three against the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, and three against the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers. After that, they come home for three against the defending world champion San Francisco Giants and three more with the Braves.
That makes 15 games against some stiff competition that will take them into August. It's an important stage of the season. The math gets pretty simple as the games left in the regular season become fewer and fewer. It's not make or break time just yet, but the Phillies probably need seven or eight wins through this stretch to be looked at as viable contenders. If they can win 10 or more, Philadelphia will probably be feeling pennant fever. Should it lose 10 or more, a lot of folks will be counting the team out.
Let the fun begin. Considering the way most of this season has gone for the Phillies, maybe it just being fun right now is saying enough.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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- Roy Halladay
- Ryan Howard