First-half failures leaves Phillies looking ahead

AP Sports WriterJuly 14, 2014 

— A couple of five-game winning streaks offered a glimpse of what the Philadelphia Phillies thought they'd be this season.

The rest of the first half proved they're not a contender.

Despite having the highest payroll at $184 million in franchise history and third-highest in the majors, the Phillies are last in the NL East at the All-Star break. They're 42-53 and trail division leaders Washington and Atlanta by 10 games.

"Not pleased with the record," manager Ryne Sandberg said before the four-day break began. "Showed spurts of improvement as of late. I've had a glimmer of hope with the stretches we've had. Getting everybody back and seeing what we can do, full strength. That's kind of where my head's at going into the second part of the season."

It certainly looks like the Phillies are headed toward an overhaul that should start this month if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., can deal key players to contending teams before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31.

Right fielder Marlon Byrd might be the first to go. Byrd hit .263 with a team-best 18 homers and had 54 RBIs. Closer Jonathan Papelbon already said he wants to go elsewhere. Papelbon has been excellent, converting 22 of 24 saves while posting a 1.21 ERA.

Cliff Lee, who hasn't pitched since mid-May, will be an attractive commodity if he shows he's healthy. Cole Hamels, the 2008 World Series MVP, would likely get the Phillies the most return. But he's still young enough to be part of rebuild so he's likely to stay. A.J. Burnett might be the only starter to go anywhere.

Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have no-trade clauses and aren't eager to leave. Ryan Howard's contract and declining production means he's staying.

"I think we can play better than we have," said Utley, the NL's starting second baseman on Tuesday night. "We've shown some glimpses of it here and there. But we've got to continue to grind and continue to put out that effort every day."

The Phillies appeared to have turned things around in June. They were 34-38 and only 3 1-2 games out of first place following three straight wins in Atlanta and two more in St. Louis. But they followed that up by losing 13 of 16. Then came another five-game winning streak, including a four-game sweep at NL Central-leading Milwaukee and a win over the Nationals. But the Phillies lost the next two to Washington to finish the first half on a losing note.

An offense that ranks toward the bottom in many statistical categories is the main reason for the team's struggles. Starting pitching has been inconsistent, but the bullpen was outstanding after a poor first month.

"When we've had our good series and played our good games, we had offensive punch in there but it would turn overnight and turn cold," Sandberg said. "That's something, consistent offense and key hits, that'll be needed in the remainder of games."

Amaro has been reluctant to break up a team that won five straight NL East titles from 2007-11, captured two pennants and won a World Series. But it's clear this overpriced group isn't going anywhere. The Phillies need prospects and don't have immediate help in the minor leagues. Trading some of the veterans now could help the team start fresh.

"I don't think that's what you set out for during spring training," Utley said.

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