Phillies aiming to make a second-half run
A four-day break allowed the Philadelphia Phillies to stay at .500 longer than they have all season.
Now, they'll try to get over that hump.
When the Phillies begin the second half of the season Friday night at the New York Mets, they'll be looking to have a winning record for just the second time all year. They were 31-30 on June 6 before losing five straight, and needed a 9-4 finish before the All-Star break to get even again at 48-48.
''It's pretty exciting, actually, for us to have gotten ourselves back in the race and to play a little bit better baseball,'' general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. ''Our pitching has been great, our starting pitching has been outstanding, kind of carrying us. We've swung the bats a little better.
''It's nice to see guys improve.''
The Phillies' resurgence coupled with the fact there isn't a dominant team in the NL East has thrust them into postseason contention. They were 6 1/2 games behind division-leading Atlanta and 5 1/2 behind Cincinnati for the second wild-card. Only Washington (48-47) stood between them and the Braves and Reds.
''We're finding ways to win and earlier we were finding ways to lose,'' shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. ''What's meaningful is we're not out of the race. No matter how good you are, you're going to lose 50 games and you're going to win 50 games. It's those 62 that really make the difference. It's going to come down to the last weekend like it has the last couple of years.''
Injuries were a factor in the first half. Former ace Roy Halladay, former NL MVP Ryan Howard, five-time All-Star Chase Utley and 2012 All-Star Carlos Ruiz all spent time on the disabled list. Halladay probably won't return before September after having shoulder surgery. Howard had knee surgery and he may not be back until then. Center fielder Ben Revere just had surgery after breaking his foot last weekend and he'll be out six to eight weeks.
''We've got to pitch. If we don't pitch, we don't have a shot at it,'' Amaro said. ''If we pitch pretty well and play a little bit better baseball, people haven't run away from this thing yet.''
The Phillies won five straight NL East titles between 2007-11, captured their second World Series championship in 2008 and won another pennant in 2009. They finished 81-81 last year, struggling after a series of key injuries plagued them throughout the first half.
With an aging core of players and several guys playing the final season of their contracts, the Phillies are trying to make possibly one last run. Still, some wonder if Amaro should start trading away players and building for the future.
Utley, Ruiz, Halladay and Michael Young each will be free agents after the season, and all except Halladay have value on the trade market.
''I guess you never know what can happen but I've never envisioned wearing another team's uniform,'' Utley said.
He doesn't have to think about that just yet.
''We're trying to add,'' Amaro said. ''It's hard to add and subtract at the same time. You can do it but we'll probably be in the add mode more than anything else.''
A center fielder and bullpen help are Amaro's top priorities. However, Amaro may rethink his buying position if the Phillies struggle on a nine-game road trip against the Mets and division leaders St. Louis and Detroit.
''They're going to make decisions based on where we are in the standings,'' Rollins said. ''So if we come out in the second half and start out hot, then they're going to make a decision according to that. There are no easy or difficult decisions; it's just what's necessary.''
All-Stars Domonic Brown (.273 average with 23 homers and 67 RBIs) and Cliff Lee (10-3, 2.86 ERA) were bright spots the first half. Cole Hamels (4-11, 4.05) and Jonathan Papelbon (five blown saves after starting 13 for 13) were among the biggest disappointments.
No matter, the Phillies are still in it going into the second half. Under manager Charlie Manuel, that's when they've played their best.
The Phillies are 357-170 after the All-Star break since 2005. They've played at least 13 games above .500 in those eight seasons, and topped out at 50-25 after the break in 2010.
''We have a good group of guys in this clubhouse,'' Utley said. ''We're all prepared to win on a daily basis and I think that's the most important thing. We have to continue to play good baseball.
''We have to score early runs and make it tough on the opposing teams.''