Well, this wasn't how they drew it up. Anyone who predicted that the Philadelphia Phillies would be dead last in the National League East and double digits out of first place should be standing in line waiting to buy a lottery ticket right about now.
The Phillies came into the regular series as the division's favorites, and they're ending the first half at rock bottom, looking up at each and every team in the NL East. They can barely see the Washington Nationals from this far back.
They're a team heading into the All-Star break on their last leg, having lost all three of their last three series, all three of which were against NL East teams, two of which were sweeps at the hands of the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves.
Where does this team go from here?
If you're an optimist, they can only go up. With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley finally back in the lineup, they'll make one last run at clawing their way back into the race, but it'll be against tough teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Braves.
It won't be easy. In fact, it'll be next to impossible.
But the second half will surely be one to follow for the Phillies, no doubt. Here are some bold predictions about what you can expect out of the Phillies during the second half.
We'll get this one out of the way first.
There will be no miracle comeback for the Phillies this season. The "comeback kids" have moved on to bigger and better things, at least for the 2012 season.
There's nothing wrong with admitting that you've been dealt a crappy hand. The Phillies knew that the odds were against them when they opened the season without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. When Roy Halladay went down, it was all but over.
Now it's time to look towards the future. It starts with trading Cole Hamels and could end with pursuing him aggressively in free agency, but the time to sell is upon them.
So who will end the Phillies' string of five consecutive National League East titles? Well, this may not be the boldest prediction you'll see in this slideshow, but I'm going with the Washington Nationals.
When I made my preseason predictions, I thought that the Nationals were definitely good enough to finish in second place and earn a wild card.
The Phillies tanked, and it sure looks like they're good enough to finish in first now.
Their top three starters, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, all have ERAs beneath three. While they could use some offense, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper have provided some firepower.
Their bullpen, which boasts four relievers with a sub-two ERA will only get better with the return of Drew Storen.
This is a team ready to make a legitimate run at the World Series, especially if they're able to add a bat at the trade deadline.
There's no doubt that Antonio Bastardo has been one of the Phillies' biggest disappointments this season. He came into the season carrying the expectation that he would fill the setup man's role in front of Jonathan Papelbon, but he has failed miserably in recent weeks.
Bastardo is the kind of guy that can get back on track, however, and I believe he will.
After a dreadful month of September in 2011, the thought was that Bastardo was tipping his pitches. For a guy that only throws two pitches, that's not a good thing.
After abandoning the changeup that he was working on as a prospect, Bastardo became a fastball/slider pitcher, and sitting on one while reacting to the other isn't very difficult for a Major League hitter, especially when Bastardo is having trouble locating.
But he has good stuff, and if there's any member of the bullpen that can get back on track, it will be Bastardo.
Joe Blanton, on the other hand, is going to continue to struggle through the second half.
Blanton's struggles can be explained through two methods: the "eye-test" and different metric evaluations. When you watch Blanton pitch, it isn't hard to see why he struggles. He works primarily inside of the strike zone attacking hitters and has a tendency to leave the ball in the upper half of the zone.
The usual result is a home run. He's been among the league's worst all season long.
Brooks Baseball shows that Blanton's repertoire has changed this season as well. He's relied heavily on two pitches: the sinker and changeup.
The problem with his sinker right now is that it is very hittable. Hitters swing and miss at his sinker less than four percent of the time. That compares favorably (or unfavorably, I suppose) to Philadelphia's favorite whipping boy—Kyle Kendrick.
As long as he works in the zone, isn't inducing as many ground balls and isn't getting many whiffs on his most frequent pitches, Blanton is going to struggle.
Justin De Fratus isn't going to return to the MLB in time to save the Phillies' bullpen this season, but he'll be back at some point and pitching to prove that he can handle a late-inning role for the club next season.
De Fratus has spent the entire season to date on the disabled list dealing with an elbow injury. As it turns out, it was a huge blow to the Phillies' bullpen.
Heading into the second half, De Fratus' first goal will be to get healthy. His second goal will be to showcase what made him one of the club's top prospects.
Jake Diekman is a guy that can be absolutely dominant in the second half of the season.
The first half was a learning experience. The left-handed flamethrower opened the year in Triple-A and scorched the competition, and that was after earning a bit of a respect from pitching coach Rich Dubee in spring training.
He was called up to the MLB to help out a depleted Phillies' bullpen, but there is no doubt that the first half was a learning experience.
I'm predicting that Diekman will only continue to improve. He has an electric repertoire, including a power sinker and a slider that generated a whiff percentage of 26.67.
He has the ceiling of a setup man, and the Phillies may be getting a glimpse of their 2013 setup men between him and Justin De Fratus in the second half.
When Roy Halladay returns in the second half, he's going to be out for blood.
Okay, that may have been a little extreme, but when Halladay returns in the second half, I believe you can expect to see the pitcher closer to the man who won the Cy Young Award in 2010 than the guy who was struggling to get anything going in the first half of the season.
He's recovering from a nagging strain in his right latissimus dorsi, an injury that could have affected his velocity and pitch selection.
Halladay's not done yet, and he'll be back with a vengeance in the second half. Expect the best.
It's nearly a foregone conclusion at this point, but for now, it's still a prediction: Cole Hamels will be traded in the second half of the season.
Neither side has anything to gain from a contract extension at this point, even though Hamels wants to remain with the Phillies. The Phillies could receive top prospects in a trade that would solidify their 2013 club, while Hamels has made it clear that he wants to test free agency.
The Phillies have always been adamant about wanting to keep the lefty and have the resources to do so. It just wouldn't make sense right now, but the offseason is a different story.
There's been some speculation that the Phillies could look into dealing Cliff Lee at the trade deadline, and while that would make sense on some levels, I just can't envision the Phillies trading Lee in the second year of his contract.
But that's not the prediction. The prediction is that Lee will have a dominant second half.
It's been a strange year to date for the left-handed starter, but he has all the indicators of a man who is able to reel off an excellent second half.
The strikeout and walk rates are excellent. The home run rate is still beneath one per every nine innings. As soon as his Lady Luck forgives him for whatever baseball sin he may have committed (Lee is saddled with a BABip of .330), you will see plenty of wins.
It's kind of anticlimatic, but I'm going to predict a dominant second half for Jonathan Papelbon. He just hasn't shown me anything to the contrary this season.
His performance in non-save situations is fascinating but not noteworthy, at least in my opinion. There's no doubt that he's an eccentric guy who thrives in pressure-packed situations.
Fans would like to see the home run rate come down, but the strikeout and walk rates are stellar, and the opposition is batting just .234 against him.
The Phillies have been lacking in several areas this season, but one of the biggest hole has undoubtedly been the lack of a right-handed setup man. First, it was Chad Qualls. He's a member of the New York Yankees now. Then it was Jose Contreras. He's done for the year.
While Antonio Bastardo has been the guy for most of the season, he's left-handed. The Phillies are in serious need of a right-handed reliever, and Michael Schwimer is going to be that guy.
Schwimer is finally showing off the skill set that made him a great relief prospect—good control, deceptive secondary offerings.
In his last 15 outings, Schwimer has surrendered just two earned runs and three walks while striking out 12.
There are guys with higher upside, like Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont, that may take over as the setup man in the future, but for the remainder of 2012, Schwimer is the guy.
Vance Worley really just can't catch a break, and I don't think that is much of a secret. He was diagnosed with bone chips in his right elbow earlier in the season—an injury that was causing him discomfort and forced him onto the 15-day disabled list.
That's a tough way to pitch, especially when you're still looking at roughly three months of starts down the road.
With that deceptive sinker, Worley certainly won't be terrible over the second half, but he has a tough half ahead of him, so don't expect him to do much dominating.
It may be time to just accept the fact that Carlos Ruiz has evolved as a hitter. Quite honestly, I've been waiting for him to come back down to Earth for the entire season. His BABip has hovered consistently above .350—a number that should be highly unsustainable over an entire season.
But watching Ruiz hit, you just get the feeling that this is something that he can keep up throughout the season. He's shown much more power than in the past and frequently attacks the alleyways with line drives.
Right now, he's a legitimate MVP candidate. He won't win the award because the Phillies are so bad right now, but the numbers should continue.
When the Phillies become sellers after the All-Star break, anyone not under contract for next season is going to become available in a trade, and once you get past the obvious names like Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, you'll see a couple of other players that could be of some interest to a contender.
Placido Polanco should be one of those guys. He's an elite defender at two positions that is relatively affordable for half a season, especially if the Phillies are willing to throw some money at a team trying to acquire him.
It sounds harsh, but the Phillies don't have a use for Polanco in the second half.
It's partly a byproduct of my prediction that the Phillies would trade Placido Polanco, but also because Mike Fontenot is swinging the bat well right now: He's going to be playing a lot of third base in the second half.
Fontenot is an interesting case. 2012 is a lost season for the Phillies, but the left-handed hitter could be an interesting option for the club's bench in 2013. From his perspective, he could be showcasing himself to get a shot with another club.
Either way, I would expect Fontenot to see plenty of playing time in the second half, especially against right-handed hitters. The Phillies will want to see whether or not he can be a competent bench player in the future.
Believe it or not, not having to making an impossible run at a sixth straight division crown may be a blessing in disguise for a guy like Ryan Howard.
The Phillies' first baseman came back relatively early from his injured Achilles, admitting that he probably wouldn't be completely healthy until next season. The fact of the matter is that not even Howard can help the Phillies pick up 14 games on a team like the Washington Nationals.
Getting back to full strength is going to be a struggle for Howard. He's not in the best shape of his life and needs to get back into the speed of things by playing games. There's no other way to do it.
I think he'll give the Phillies the power they've been missing, but everything else is going to be a struggle for a while.
He may have temporarily picked up the pace in the last month or so, but there's no doubt that the first half of the season was a struggle for longtime Phillies' shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
The switch-hitter struggled big time at the plate and uncharacteristically took his struggles into the field with him for a while.
The truth of the matter is that Rollins should be looking over his shoulder. There aren't many quality MLB shortstops around the game, and Freddy Galvis can provide sub-par offense and plus-plus defense on the cheap.
Rollins will need to turn things around. He's supposed to be the clubhouse leader but isn't leading this ball club. Often times, a change in leadership is the best thing for a club. I wouldn't expect a trade this summer, but the winter could be a different story.
Much like Ryan Howard, it's going to take Chase Utley a couple of months to get back into the swing of things. There's no doubt that their swings are going to be a little rusty after missing nearly four months of baseball activities since spring training started.
If you ask me, Utley's best month of the season won't come until September. He'll have more than a month and a half of baseball under his belt at that point, and though the Phillies won't be playing for much in the month of September, Utley will be.
He needs to keep his knee condition in check and be ready to contribute full time in 2013.
Ty Wigginton is probably going to be the subject of a few trade rumors this summer, but I don't think the Phillies are going to trade him.
First and foremost, he's very affordable through the second half. The Colorado Rockies are on the hook for half of his deal, so the Phillies will owe about $1 million in the second half.
Out of the race, the Phillies will also find plenty of playing time for Wigginton. They'll need to rest guys like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and could consider trading Placido Polanco.
He'll be back. You can count on it.
With the Phillies ready to become sellers in the second half of the season, they could move a few outfielders, including Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre. They'll need to fill the roster with prospects ready to contribute, and Domonic Brown has worked in both positions.
They'll want to see if he's ready to contribute at the MLB level for the 2013 season one way or another, so expect him to see plenty of playing time in the second half, regardless of who the Phillies deal.
Other prospects that could see the MLB in the second half include Tyler Cloyd, John Suomi, Cody Overbeck, Kevin Frandsen, BJ Rosenberg, Michael Cisco, Tyson Brummett, Phillippe Aumont and Justin Friend.
This will be a simple prediction: John Mayberry Jr. gets one more shot to prove himself in the second half.
The Phillies came into the season putting a lot of faith in Mayberry, and he hasn't delivered. They thought they had a right-handed power bat on the cheap and, instead, have come away looking like cheapskates after refusing to negotiate with guys like Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer.
Now that they're out of the race, there's nothing to lose. Expect to see a lot of Mayberry as the Phillies try to decide whether or not he's a legitimate everyday player or a bench guy.
The Phillies haven't been out of the postseason race before the second half of the season began for a long time, but that's the case this season. A lot of players that would normally be playing reserve roles will have a much larger chance to prove themselves.
You can count Laynce Nix among them.
Nix was one of the Phillies' best hitters through the first month or so of the season before a severe calf strain forced him to the disabled list, and he's been there ever since.
He should begin a second rehab assignment after suffering a bit of a setback during the month of June, and when he returns, he'll face a lot of right-handed pitching to rest Ryan Howard and should get plenty of reps in left field.
The Phillies aren't the kind of club that's going to roll over in the second half of the season. It may be next to impossible for them to claw their way back into the race, but they're not going to give up. There's still something to play for in regards to a lot of these guys.
Take Hunter Pence, for example.
Few players have more to gain in a great second half than Pence, who is eligible for his final year of arbitration this winter and could be in line for a big contract extension.
There is no doubt that the Phillies want to get the guys who should lead their offense in the future locked up, and Pence is, without a doubt, part of their long-term plans.
The real prediction on this slide is that I believe Pence is going to have a monster second half. I'm talking big power numbers, big contact numbers and an increase in production with runners in scoring position. But there's so much more.
I think that Pence is a guy that the Phillies really want to get locked up beyond next year. He's the type of complementary player that is invaluable to this offense. Pence is very comparable to Jayson Werth, and while the Phillies didn't make a mistake in letting Werth walk, they did see the effect his departure had on the offense.
Pence's second half should be great, but his offseason might be even better.
Who would have thought that Juan Pierre could be one of the Phillies' best trade chips before the deadline after he signed a minor league deal over the offseason?
I didn't. I saw Pierre as a guy who, at best, could play a role off of the bench or, at worst, would be sent to Triple-A.
How wrong I was. How wrong most of us were.
Pierre has played the majority of the club's games in left field and could be of interest to a lot of contending teams at the deadline thanks to his bat and speed.
I think he'll be traded.
Shane Victorino will be traded. Now, it's just a matter of time.
Before the season began, however, it was a situation that I found myself on the fence about. Victorino is the type of guy that was "on the bubble." He could fit into the team's future plans. He's still a very good center fielder, but given the circumstances, he probably wasn't going to.
Now, he looks like a goner. When you look at his numbers, you'd think that Victorino had a dreadful season, but the truth of the matter is that he's still a very good defender and has mashed left-handed pitching.
He'll help a club that needs a right-handed hitter in the lineup, particularly one with good pitching that would benefit from his defense.
Strangely enough, I personally believe that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are the best fit. Baseball is a funny game.