The halfway point of the Major League Baseball season is long gone.
The Home Run Derby has passed us by, and the All-Star Game soon followed.
After what was the dullest, most boring day of the entire year in the world of sports, we welcome back baseball on Thursday.
The Philadelphia Phillies, who have been a very solid second half team in the recent years, went into the break 10 games over .500 with a four-game lead over the Florida Marlins in the National League East.
Will the Phillies begin to run away with the division in the coming months? Or will their lead dwindle down to give the rest of the teams in the division a chance to catch up?
Technically, the only way to find out is to way and see. But we don't have the time and patience just to "wait and see". That's why I'm here, to preview the Phillies' second half of the 2009 season.
The Phillies currently are 48-38 (.558) with a four-game lead in the NL East. They are 10-1 in their last 11 games.
With the tough schedule ahead for the Phillies, it will be a rough July. But beyond this month, and especially when September rolls around, the team will see many more easier opponents.
Although I am not particularly a fan of giving an exact number when it comes to win projections, I'm going with 93 victories (which means 69 losses), only because it's one more win than was earned last season.
First place in the division should be easier to accomplish and clinched earlier this season. While I'm not saying the race is over just yet, I do see the Phillies ending up winning it by 5-7 games (remember, they won it by three last year).
In the first half, Raul Ibanez, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, and others carried the Phillies to the position they are in now. In the second half, even more players need to step up, especially pitchers.
With the injuries that have damaged the pitching staff, the club is lucky to be at where they are now. Nine starting pitchers have already been sent to the mound, compared to the seven used the entire season in 2008.
Pedro Martinez won't do much, if anything, to make the Phillies a much better team. Acquiring him is equivalent to picking up another Jamie Moyer. Both will give you five or six innings, and hopefully, each will keep you in the game.
But who exactly needs to bring their game face for the last 86 games of the season?
On the offensive side of the ball, Jimmy Rollins is the obvious choice. His struggles are beginning to look like a thing of the past, but a return to his horrible slump would deeply harm the Phillies' playoff and World Series hopes.
Among others, Ryan Howard will need to playing a bit more of all-around baseball than he has been thus far. We've come to learn that a high average is no longer a part of Howard's game, but reaching base more frequently and hitting the ball more consistently needs to be worked on.
In the rotation, the ace, Cole Hamels, desperately needs to pitch with more consistency. We all know he has the repertoire to shut batters down every start, and he has shown it through his entire career, just not this season (or half of it, I should say).
With the current condition of the rotation, Hamels' return to the ace he was in October last season will a huge plus.
In the bullpen, Brad Lidge absolutely needs to get back into a groove. Whether he will be able to return to 2008 form remains to be seen, but if he finds a way to lower his ERA to 5.00 and blow only three saves the rest of the season, I'll be fine.
Key Storyline To Watch
Every day we hear more and more assurance that Roy Halladay will be dealt to the Phillies in return for quite the hefty price.
Many fans have made it known that whatever the price is, they want the former Cy Young.
Personally, I'd rather not give up the four top prospects in the Phillies' farm system, along with J.A. Happ, in order to receive Halladay in return.
I understand that people believe prospects are over-hyped, and that Halladay is a proven player. Honestly, both of those statements are correct.
But let's say we move back to around 2002, and the Phillies are on the hunt for a superstar pitcher.
The opposing team wants three top prospects and a major league player.
What young players do the Phillies give up? Let's say Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard.
Hamels was a highly touted prospect, but Ruiz's and Howard's hype can be compared to that of Kyle Drabek and Mike Taylor and Dominic Brown.
To say that these prospects are over-hyped may end up making you look like a genius, but could also turn out completely wrong and make you look like a moron.
Howard Eskin pointed out that only one-fifth of minor league players ever pan out. Well, you know what, these guys are a part of that fifth.
Steve Phillips shared that keeping prospects can get GM's fired. Well, sir, you are an expert in the subject of getting the boot, so maybe we should take your word, especially since you traded away Jason Bay, and attempted to do the same to Jose Reyes.
Listen, these prospects the Phillies have are the Cole Hamels' of the world, the Ryan Howard's of the world, and Carlos Ruiz's of the world. These guys are players who will make an impact for years to come.
Giving up three prospects may mean losing three future key players.
While the one player in return will certainly contribute that season, and possibly a few beyond that, the future beyond that is left unknown.
If the Phillies trade for Halladay, their chances of winning this year are greatly increased. But their chances of winning five to 10 years from now aren't.
I would rather see a lower-level starter with a much lower price (i.e. the Joe Blanton trade last season) sent to the Phillies than Roy Halladay.
The Phillies have been built on keeping their prospects, trusting in their players, and trading/signing the role players who are so essential to a team's success.
Why abandon that train of thought now?
Key Series To Watch
July 16-19 @ Florida Marlins
July 20-22 vs. Chicago Cubs
July 24-26 vs. St. Louis Cardinals
July 30-Aug. 2 @ San Francisco Giants
Aug. 7-9 vs. Florida Marlins
Aug. 21-24 @ New York Mets
Sept. 1-3 vs. San Francisco Giants
Sept. 11-13 (double-header on 13th) vs. New York Mets
Sept. 24-27 @ Milwaukee Brewers
Oct. 2-4 vs. Florida Marlins
Nah, I'm not that foolish.
Thanks for reading. I hope you learned at least the slightest bit of information from reading this.