Philadelphia Phillies: 10 Things the Team Needs to Do to Be Playoff Contenders
As the second half of the season begins, the Philadelphia Phillies find themselves in foreign territory. They are 14 games behind the Washington Nationals for the division crown and 10 games back of the Atlanta Braves and the Cincinnati Reds for the two Wild Card spots.
Basically, the Phils are aboard a sinking ship and if they don't climb out soon, they will be out of the playoff picture, finishing a season that all will soon want to forget.
Even though the situation is grim, there is still hope for the Phillies. One of the biggest problems for the team this year is that they have not played up to the level that they should be. The players haven't stepped up in ways that they have in the past.
Although this has been a source of concern it now represents a reason to hope. The Phillies have the talent to get it done, they just need to show up to play as soon as the second half of the season begins.
There is no question this is an uphill battle, but there is still a chance, albeit a slim one, that the Phillies get it done. Here are the ten things that the Phils must do at the start of the break in order to keep the possibility of making the playoffs alive.
Must Start Strong as Soon as the Season Resumes
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Coming off of a disastrous end to the first half, the Phillies will have no choice but to step on the gas as soon as the second half of the season begins.
The Phils have dug themselves into a huge hole and they are going to have to claw and fight just to climb out of it. They are 13 games under .500 and even worse, 14 games out of the division lead. They are also currently outside of the Wild Card picture.
Long story short, making the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year is a grim possibility. In fact right now, the Phils shouldn't even be thinking about the playoffs. They should be concentrating on just winning games and on winning them immediately.
With only 77 games left on the schedule, the Phillies can't afford to take an off day. They have to play each game with a sense of urgency and most importantly they have to go on a run to start the second half.
Get Roy Halladay Back from the DL
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They've gotten Utley back, they've gotten Howard back and now there is only one remaining piece of the puzzle on the DL. Unfortunately for the Phils, this piece has proven to be one of the most reliable and important members of the team and they sorely need him back to take his spot at the top of the rotation.
On top of having their ace back and hopefully back in form, the Phillies get a lot more with Roy Halladay back in the rotation.
Starting with Cole Hamels, the most consistent performer on the staff this season, he will be helped just by Halladay's presence. The pressure, which has been square on Hamels' shoulders all season, will be alleviated as he will not have to carry the rotation all by himself.
The same goes for Cliff Lee. Lee, who has had the most ups and downs of any player on the roster. Lee has not gotten much offensive support this season and as a result it has put pressure on him to pitch perfectly. With Halladay back and another force on the staff, some of that pressure for Lee will disappear as he likely will know that it isn't just him and Hamels that need to win games.
At this point in the season even if Halladay is a little rusty, having him instead of Kyle Kendrick in the rotation is a positive. If the Phils hope to contend for a playoff spot, they are going to need their ace and they are going to need him as soon as possible.
Trade Shane Victorino for a Bullpen Arm
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On top of everything else going on with the team, there are two major things that the Phillies cannot afford in the second half of the season:
1. Little to no production from the two-hole in the lineup.
2. More bullpen meltdowns.
There is no doubt that this team is at least 10 wins better if not for the absolute atrocities from the bullpen and Shane Victorino's propensity to pop the ball up in the worst situations.
Some may think that trading Victorino is a red flag that this team is going into sell mode but that isn't the case.
The main goal for the Phillies is still to re-sign Cole Hamels to a long-term deal. In doing this, there is little to no chance that they will have the money or the desire to resign Victorino as well. That said and considering the season he is having, it would be smart for the Phils to get as much as they can from Victorino.
As I mentioned and as any Phillies fan knows, a problem area for this team is the bullpen. Forget about the playoffs, if they want to finish the season above .500, they need more than just Jonathan Papelbon as a reliable arm in the pen.
That is why it makes complete sense for the Phillies to trade Victorino for a solid bullpen arm and one who can be a contributor for the rest of the season
Continue to Get Solid Outings from Cole Hamels
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Other than Carlos Ruiz, who has been a total MVP for this team, the only other player who has been consistent, healthy and no doubt vital to this team, has been Cole Hamels.
Hamels has given the Phils his absolute best for the entire season. He has a record of 10-4 but really should be 12-2. Even though his record is great, he has pitched even better than that throughout the course of the season.
Having gone from playoff ace in 2008 to the third best pitcher on the team, Hamels adjusted to his new role with a great start to the 2012 season. When Lee was not performing well, Hamels, who started the home opener, stepped up to win eight of his next nine starts, including a 5-0 month of May.
When Halladay was placed on the DL, Hamels stepped up again to take over as the ace of this staff. Since then, even though his record doesn't show it, Hamels has been unflappable and not intimidated. He has gotten back into the role of ace he held pre-2009 and has given the Phils every opportunity to win his starts.
When the season resumes, Hamels is likely to be on the mound for the first game back. Even though he has pitched well this season, he will have to be at his top-notch best going forward. The Phillies need him to continue to pitch well and to continue them into the late summer months. Even when Halladay comes back, Hamels is still going to vital to this team's chances.
RBI and Poiwer from the Heart of the Order
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When the season began, there were a lot of questions regarding where the Phillies would get their power from. With Howard on the DL, the burden fell to Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino.
So far, Pence has not disappointed. He has gotten his average to .285, has 16 home runs and 50 RBI. He has supplied a little bit of the power the Phils were missing but with runners in scoring position, he has failed to come up with big hits. He could have a lot more than 50 RBI if he had a better average with runners on base with less than two outs.
Even with Pence, the Phils were still missing two of their biggest contributors in Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.
Well, now these two are back and the Phils really don't have any more excuses for why they aren't scoring runs. Their power is off of the DL and after the All-Star Break it will have to start producing and producing big.
The heart of the order of Utley, Howard and Carlos Ruiz, will be the catalysts for this offense. Ruiz has been phenomenal all season and I know Utley and Howard are still getting back into baseball shape, but when the season resumes, all three of them need to be stellar on offense. Ruiz needs to continue his first half success and Howard and Utley need to heat up fast.
Play Error-Free Baseball
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A team that for years that has prided itself on its defensive ability, the Phillies have cost themselves games this season because of their inability to catch and field the ball.
Nothing has come easy this season for the Phils, defense included. Other than obvious injuries to starters, the replacements in the infield, save for Freddy Galvis, have never really gotten into a good grove defensively.
Ty Wigginton has made countless errors at third, Mike Fontenot, although good with the bat, has proven a liability in the middle infield and most surprisingly, has been the miscues by the outfielders.
Hunter Pence is not really known for his defense but this season it has been particularly a problem. His unorthodox playing style has seen him misplay a handful of balls he easily should have caught and his odd choice of certain routes to track balls has proven costly. Although his arm is very strong and has contributed to several outfield assists, it is the errors and miscues that have put unearned runs on the board.
On top of the defensive issues appearing on the scorecard, there is also the issue of mental mistakes, which the Phils have their fair share of this season. From base running gaffes to bad at-bats and everything in between, there has been a multitude of small mistakes that have occurred.
Now obviously no team is perfect, but this little mental errors add up and have added up to cost the Phillies wins. Going forward, if they hope to make the playoffs, they need to limit these mental errors and eliminate field errors as much as possible.
Don't Scoreboard Watch
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If there is one thing the Phillies don't want to find themselves doing when the season resumes, it is scoreboard watching.
Now I know players and teams don't typically scoreboard watch this early in the season, but with the Nationals 14 games ahead of the Phillies for the division lead and the Reds and Braves 10 games ahead for the two wild card spots, it has got to be tempting. It wouldn't be surprising to see some of the players peeking at the standings every once in a while.
The problem however is that the Phillies cannot afford to do this.
Scoreboard watching puts the Phils in a precarious place because if they lose games and so are the teams they are chasing, it could lull the team into a sense of security. Losses don't mean as much if the Phils aren't losing ground.
The biggest issue with this is that eventually not losing ground is going to cost the Phils just as much as losing ground. They are going to run out of time and out of games and then, scoreboard watching will be needed just for the team to be able to survive.
The best bet right now is for the Phils to just go out and play baseball. They can't focus on other teams and what they are doing. They need to win games and eventually that 14 or 10 game margin will shrink and playoffs might once again become a legitimate possibility.
Win the Head-to-Head Matchups Against Divisional and Wild Card Leading Opponents
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At this point in the season, the Phillies need to win most of their games, but most importantly they have to command matchups against the teams they are chasing.
When the Phillies resume play, they will open up with 12 straight games against teams outside of the NL East. They can't take these games lightly. Even though the Phils can't directly gain ground from these games, they have to win most if not all of the upcoming series and treat each game as importantly as the divisional games, of which they have a lot coming up.
After these games, a pivotal stretch begins. They end July with three against the Braves, three against the Nationals and then start August with three against the Diamondbacks before another three against the Braves.
In addition to the divisional games the Phils have to wind down their season, they have a four game series in the middle of August and another three in early September against the Cincinnati Reds, one of teams that currently holds a wild card spot
Most importantly, these are the games the Phillies have to win. It was late 2008 when a four game sweep of the Brewers put the Phillies atop the wild card standings and propelled the to win the division. If that is going to happen again, they have to gain ground during the month of July and then come into August ready to handle their business against these teams.
Get Jimmy Rollins to Heat Up
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When Jimmy goes, this team goes.
I know it's been said over a thousand times and it has probably gotten tiring to hear, but it is true. There is no denying that when Rollins is on, so is this team. It has been proven time and time again and for the second half of this season, if Rollins has a great half, the Phillies could find themselves back in the playoffs.
For whatever reason, whether it be his leadership, his getting on base at the top of the order, his rash declarations and swagger or a combination of all of it, Rollins is the person the Phillies most need to heat up. Plain and simple, when he scores runs, the Phillies win games.
At the top of the order, Rollins gets the ball rolling. If he gets on base with a single, he is a threat to run, causing the opposing pitcher to focus on him on the base paths and possibly make a mistake with the hitter. If he hits a double or triple, he gives the heart of the order a great chance to get on the board with a run. And if he hits a home run, he can give the Phils early leads.
If the team wants to compete for the postseason, Rollins will once again have to emerge the leader and player he did during his MVP year. He helped the Phils make that improbable playoff run and he will be the one to help them in 2012 if they are to do it again.
The Bullpen Has to Rebound for the Second Half of the Season
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Out of all of the things the Phillies need to do, this has to be at the top of the list. As much as they need the starters to pitch well, as much as they need Utley, Howard and Rollins, most importantly, they need a bullpen that can hold down leads.
Halladay, Hamels and Lee won't be able to pitch eight innings every single outing and Blanton and Worley won't often make it past six. It is for this reason that the Phillies need guys who can hold down leads, who can keep the Phillies in games, who can finish an outing without being booed or without having to hold their head in shame as they exit the game.
It hasn't been Antonio Bastardo, someone who last season almost earned himself a full time closer role, it isn't Michael Stutes, who landed on the DL early in the season. It wasn't Chad Qualls who got his walking papers in June. It wasn't Dontrelle Willis who didn't even make the team out of spring training.
Will it be Raul Valdes, Jake Diekman or Brian Horst, three Lehigh Valley products who came up this season to aid the pen? So far, even with hiccups of their own, it has been these three that have been the most reliable with the exception of Jonathan Papelbon, who has excelled in the closer role.
All of the guys in the bullpen need to figure out their issues over this break and come back ready to help and not hurt the Phils. The team stands no chance at making the playoffs if the pen has as bad a second half as they did the first.