Up-and-down Phillies dragging out the drama

Up-and-down Phillies dragging out the drama

July 7, 2013, 5:30 pm
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They won’t go away. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re alive in the playoff race. It just means they haven’t completely buried themselves under six inches of dirt-covered mediocrity. No wake. No funeral. Not yet.

Your 2013 Phillies are an interesting bunch. When they look like they might get it together, they crumble. When it appears they’re about to be dismantled and sold off as spare parts, they get going and make you wonder if they might have a few more miles left in them before the tank is actually empty. That has been the season. And so it continues.

On Sunday, less than 24 hours after the Braves beat them by nine runs, the Phillies played well enough to defeat Atlanta, 7-3, at Citizens Bank Park (see story). The Phils took two out of three games from the Braves, and in the process they closed a little distance in the NL East. They trail Atlanta by 7 1/2 games.

“I think [the players] got the message,” Charlie Manuel said. “I think they understand the importance of these games. They know the importance of the games all the way up to the trade deadline.”

Earlier in the week, after the Phils returned to town, Ruben Amaro Jr. was pressed on the meaning of the 10-game homestand. The general manager said this particular stretch is “very important” and “we’ve got to play well to stay in contention.”  Amaro said he’d know a lot about his club after this, and he indicated that the team’s approach for the trade deadline will likely be determined by what happens in the games that funnel the season into the All-Star break.

“I hope we’re adding to this club rather than subtracting,” Amaro said. “That’s the goal, but as I always say, and I’ve been saying, the players will dictate it.”

So far, the players have dictated that no verdict on their future be rendered just yet. They won two of their first three games. A sweep would have been better, of course, but it is a start. They have another seven games in front of them to convince Amaro to acquire talent rather than unload it.

If Amaro seems non-committal on what to do, there are reasons for it. While the Phils have been wildly inconsistent this season, they haven’t been that far off the pace over the last couple of months. Since May 1, the Phillies are 31-31. The Nationals are 33-28. And the Braves are 33-29.

There have been some encouraging signs. Domonic Brown hit a triple on Sunday and raised his average to .281. The newly-minted All-Star also mashed another home run, his 23rd of the year. In the long history of the club, only five Phillies have had more homers at this point in any season. Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard and Chuck Klein each did it three times. Chase Utley and Greg Luzinski did it once. That’s good company.

After a painfully slow start during which he looked lost in the field and at the plate, Ben Revere is suddenly hitting. His average is up to .295. A month ago, on June 7, he was hitting just .245. That’s a significant up-tick.

Delmon Young, who had been almost entirely useless for much of the year, looks less awful lately. Over his last 11 games, Young is hitting .452 with a home run and 10 RBIs.

And Chase Utley has been better than he has in a while. Maybe he hasn’t completely returned to form, but he’s hitting .281 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs.

Since June 13, the Phillies lead the National League in hits, batting average and total bases. The bullpen is still a problem (second-worst ERA in MLB), Ryan Howard is on the disabled list (and wasn’t hitting that well before going on the shelf), and no one can be sure what to expect out of Carlos Ruiz (six RBIs, no home runs this season) going forward, but the Phillies keep hanging around. They aren’t exactly in playoff contention, but you can see why Amaro and the organization are hesitant to declare themselves out of it.

“During the course of a year, I’ve always said this, usually you’re going to get a couple streaks where you can win some games,” Manuel said. “When I say that, I’m talking about anywhere from six, eight, maybe even 10 games. I think ours, of course, is yet to come.”

Three games down in this homestand. Seven more remain. Nothing is decided yet. That is how it goes with this team.

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