The Phillies are finally playing decent baseball, even though they still have an occasional stinker. But most of their players are healthy now and some of their younger players are playing better now and, at last, they’re looking like the offensive team we were supposed to see at the beginning of the season.
Unfortunately for the Phillies and their fans, it’s probably too late. They were 7 ½ games out of first place in National League East going into Monday night’s game against Washington and the Phils haven’t shown the consistency they would need to make up that much ground. And even if they did, their sorry bullpen would probably drag them down.
That disappointing first half, as well as the slim prospects of making the playoffs, are why a lot of people say the Phils will be sellers instead of buyers when the major-league trading deadline arrives at the end of July. Chase Utley, Michael Young, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon are the names that come up the most when media and fans talk about the rebuilding process that would dump veterans for prospects, and even Cliff Lee, their best pitcher, has been a topic of that debate.
But that would be a mistake. The Phillies were put together to win today and it doesn’t appear they will, but that doesn’t mean this lineup – with a restocked bullpen – can’t win tomorrow.
Look at the reasons the Phillies have recently won series against teams like the Red Sox and Pirates as well as their two main divisional rivals, the Nationals and Braves.
Left-fielder Domonic Brown is finally playing like the franchise player the Phillies saw when he was in the minor leagues and he’s pace to have one of the best seasons by any player in team history.
Center-fielder Ben Revere is finally providing the offensive spark expected from him when the Phillies acquired him from Minnesota. He got off to a slow start and spent a lot of time on the bench or at the bottom of the order, but he’s hit .350 since May 1.
Right-fielder Delmon Young is finally giving the Phillies a good No. 5-6 hitter after he, too, had a slow start as he opened the season on the disabled list after having ankle surgery. He’s hitting .274 and has 27 RBI in 56 games and his swing is much smoother.
Second baseman Chase Utley is finally looking like the Chase Utley of old. He also missed time, almost a month, with an oblique injury and even though he isn’t putting up the numbers that he did in his All-Star prime, he was hitting .281 with 13 doubles and 11 home runs going into Monday night’s game and that ain’t bad.
Finally, third baseman Michael Young is doing what he’s been doing all season – he’s swung a consistent bat, hitting .284, and provided solid leadership in the clubhouse. And even though his defense won’t make anybody forget Brooks Robinson, he’s fielded third base pretty well.
So, slow starts by key players and a dismal bullpen have kept the Phillies under .500 for almost the entire season. But some of that should have been expected – Delmon Young missed the beginning of the year with his injury and he, like Revere, had to adjust to new pitchers in a new league. They are two key components to the new-look Phillies of 2013 and it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it took them time to find their sea legs.
But they’re hitting their stride now and Brown is emerging as a true star, and that’s why the Phillies should give their aging lineup one more chance to get its act together. Assume that Roy Halladay comes back strong from his shoulder surgery and Cole Hamels once again wins games in double figures instead of losing and Cliff Lee continues to be Cliff Lee. That would give the Phils as good a 1-2-3 punch as any team in baseball.
The bullpen has to change dramatically, but Papelbon is still a quality closer and those guys don’t grow on trees. So keep him, too.
The Phillies should plan for their future by holding onto their present, at least for one more season. Dealing away proven veterans will put this team into a rebuilding mode for the next several years. Holding onto those veterans will make that transition less dramatic and it might even lead to another parade down Broad Street.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.