Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Reasons They Can Make a Run in the Second Half

Alec Snyder@@alec_snyder62Contributor IIIJuly 17, 2012

Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Reasons They Can Make a Run in the Second Half

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    It's been said time and time again: The 2012 season hasn't been in the Philadelphia Phillies' favor.

    Throughout the season, a myriad of worst possible outcomes have occurred for the Fightin' Phils. Cliff Lee only won his first game just before the halfway point of the season. Roy Halladay, one of the game's most durable pitchers, went on the DL for the first time in years.

    The bullpen, on the whole, has been horrendous. Freddy Galvis, a ray of hope at times for this team, got hurt, then got slammed with a 50-game suspension for PEDs. And what do you know, the team sits at 40-51, good for last place in the NL East and 13 games behind the first-place...Washington Nationals.

    There have been a few reasons not to give up on this team, though.

    Carlos Ruiz finally got his national due as he made the NL All-Star team and is one of the league's top players. Cole Hamels, though an impending free agent without a contract extension, has pitched admirably for the Phils. And aside from a couple of exceptions, Jonathan Papelbon has been great as the team's closer (if only he had more save opportunities).

    While a majority of fans have given up on the season for the Phillies, there is still reason to believe that this team can come back. For now, at least. But there is hope. The team's just a good winning streak away from being in the NL wild-card hunt.

    Whether or not that can happen is a different story, but this team is known for being a second-half team in recent years. It's possible.

    Here's five reasons why a magical playoff run is still possible in 2012.

Recent Second-Half Winning Tendencies

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    The Phillies are currently winners of five straight NL East division titles, and don't look for that streak to end. At least, not like this.

    As it stands, the team is 40-51 and is in last place in the division by 13 games. The team has not been this bad since the early 2000s, if not earlier. And those were dark days.

    The team's recent seasons haven't all been smooth sailing to the division title. In 2007 and 2008, it came down to the last game and two games of the season, respectively. In 2010, the team wasn't even in first place at the All-Star break—they were seven games out, yet won the division with roughly a week to spare.

    Clearly, the Phillies are capable of bringing it together in the second half.

    If you want specifics, over the last three years' second halves, the Phillies have gone 140-82 cumulatively. Average that out and you get a 47-27 record. Would that be enough to claim a division title? Barring a major collapse at the top, a la 2011, no.

    But a wild card wouldn't be out of the question. And in that 2010 season? The team had the best second half in the aforementioned three-year span, going 50-25 after the All-Star festivities in Los Angeles.

    Yes, the past isn't the present, and that's especially clear this season. But if the team can put a solid second half up, at least in the win-loss columns, they could make a pretty nice run.

Returns from Injury

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    One of the biggest glimmers of hope is that the returns of Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard would put the Phillies back in contention. The leadership that each provides for the pitching and the offense has been missed, and their returns would spark improvement in each department.

    While we haven't seen Halladay back just yet, Utley and Howard coming back hasn't exactly jump-started the team's offense. In fact, since Utley's return, the Phillies have gone just 3-12, and neither Utley nor Howard have succeeded at the plate, though Howard did hit his first home run since coming back in Monday night's game.

    The real difference-maker should be Roy "Doc" Halladay. Halladay, who's been on the DL since May 28, makes his return Tuesday night to face the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Prior to hitting the DL, Doc had struggled as it was, going 4-5 with a 3.98 ERA. However, it later became known that he'd been dealing with shoulder soreness since spring training, and he promptly hit the DL with a lat strain.

    If all goes well with his health, Doc should be back to his usual, ace-caliber form.

    There's also hope that Utley and Howard can pick it up in the second half, but that guarantee can't be made due to their injury issues. Carlos Ruiz should manage to keep hitting, and Hunter Pence was a fantastic second-half player last year after the Phillies acquired him.

    And, mind you, Cliff Lee had a spectacular August last year. While a month as incredible as that is extremely unlikely given both Lee's and the team's struggles, who knows?

    The second half this year is full of question marks and what-ifs. But if all goes well—if the offense picks up as it should and the pitching is as good as we know it can be—then maybe the second half of the Phillies' season won't be nearly as unbearable to watch as the first.

Possible Trade Deadline Acquisitions?

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    Acquisitions? More like returns.

    Unless you've been living under a rock for what's occurred in the 2012 MLB season so far, you know that the Phillies are highly considering selling this trade deadline. Headlining those who have been part of the rumor mill are ace Cole Hamels, center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence.

    Unless GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. makes a surprising move to acquire talent rather than trade it away, the only way the Phillies will get better for the future will be to trade away some of its veteran players. Some, like Hamels, come with uncertainty, what with his impending free agency on the horizon. Others, like Victorino, do as well, albeit with considerably less.

    Due to their All-Star resumes and their prominence as premier players in MLB, Hamels, Victorino and Pence could all net big returns. Others, like Juan Pierre and Joe Blanton, could hold some value in acquiring smaller pieces, like a reliever or two. And players like Pierre and Blanton could make all the difference.

    In my opinion, the Phillies' biggest weakness this year is their bullpen. They need a veteran reliever.

    And a guy like Pierre or Blanton could net them that reliever. Since both will be free agents, they likely won't command much on the trade market, but a reliever in a deal could be in tow. And if the Phillies ate enough of Blanton's salary, yes, even he could be traded.

    Even if Amaro does decide to go with a quasi-fire sale, trading "less important" pieces could give the Phillies the players they need to make a push. Should Amaro play his cards right, both an impact reliever and some future prospects could be obtained in some trades in the coming days.

Bullpen Continues Successes of Late

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    Maybe the Phillies don't trade a Blanton or Pierre. Maybe they just stick to who they've got.

    Over the recent years, the Phillies have worn their farm system thin due to trades for Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. And while each of the four players have been tremendous for the team at some point, the deals have come at a cost, and that's a weak farm system that arguably ranks in the bottom five of all teams in baseball.

    However, if there was one area that the Phillies specialize in having multiple players close to the big leagues, it's relief pitching.

    Guys like Justin De Fratus, Phillippe Aumont, Jake Diekman, Michael Schwimer, Joe Savery, Michael Stutes, and Antonio Bastardo are all homegrown players who either have or are developing into major league relievers (mainly the latter).

    And while those at the big league level have primarily struggled, such as Savery and Schwimer, others have succeeded, like Bastardo and Diekman. Stutes has also shown flashes of being an effective reliever, but he's out for the remainder of 2012 after having shoulder surgery.

    Granted, Bastardo and Diekman have struggled as much as they have succeeded. Schwimer, though, has been fantastic recently, surrendering only two runs in his 13 outings or so. And then there's Diekman, who has been reliable on the whole, although he has his days where he just doesn't have it.

    Bastardo is starting to settle down again as well, though since the 2011 All-Star break he's had his issues with control. In the first half of 2011, though, he was arguably baseball's best reliever.

    If guys like Schwimer and Diekman continue to get outs and Bastardo and the rest of the group get it together, maybe the bullpen won't be as desperate for more veteran help as they seemingly are now. And if the 'pen does get it together, the bullpen should be solid enough that the team can worry about other things, like their general lack of hitting.

Cole Hamels Contract Extension...If It Happens

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    It's no secret that Cole Hamels will be one of the top starting pitchers available on the free-agent market this coming offseason. As a result, many contending teams are considering him as a rental with the hope that he'll be the difference maker and will take them to the playoffs and, thus, the World Series.

    For quite some time now, it's been Phillies fans' biggest complaint: Why hasn't Hamels been extended yet?

    Even though it still has yet to materialize, the Phillies are apparently working to extend Hamels sometime soon to keep him in Phillies pinstripes for years to come.

    It's been reported that the team is preparing an offer of "at least $120 million"—the same amount of money the team is paying Cliff Lee—to keep Hamels in Philadelphia. Whether he'll take it or not remains to be seen, but the chances that Hamels passes up free agency at this point in the season are slim to none.

    Should Hamels refuse to sign or the Phillies not offer him an extension after all, Hamels is almost certain to be traded for top prospects. Teams like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers are interested, and even more teams scouted his start on Sunday.

    But should Hamels be extended, not only should he be pleased to remain a Philly (as he's made clear he'd like to do), but it should boost team morale as well. Why? It shows that the team hasn't given up on winning, and they care about retaining their core players to stay in contention.

    Maybe it's a stretch, but a Hamels extension would do the Phillies a world of good.