Phillies at Braves
7:35 p.m. on CSN
The second half of the season is here. Following the four-day All-Star break, the Phillies resume their schedule with three games in Atlanta.
The Phils are 42-53 and 10 games behind the Braves (52-43), so even if they somehow sweep this series they'll still have a sizable deficit in the division.
That's not what the season is about anymore. The Phillies have a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, and Bovada gives them 50-to-1 odds of winning the NL East.
This next week is important, however, for a different reason. That is the first of five things you need to know:
Boost that value
The Phillies would love for Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and a few other players to have a strong 10 days leading up to the trade deadline.
It's still early in trade season and teams won't begin really ramping up their efforts to improve until around this time next week. If any injuries arise for contenders, that would help the Phillies, a team that may have the best bat and best arms on the market with Byrd, Lee and Hamels.
Lee pitches July 21 at home against the Giants. That will be a meaningful start for him to reestablish his trade value, although it's looking more and more likely that he will be a Phillie at least until the winter.
Burnett on a roll
Burnett (6-8, 3.83) has made seven consecutive quality starts. Over that span he's pitched at least seven innings six times.
Since June 10, Burnett has averaged 7.4 innings per start and posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. The walks are down, the hits are down, and the strikeouts are down, but that's OK because Burnett is inducing plenty of ground balls and soft contact. His opponents have hit .209 over his last seven starts.
Burnett could likely fetch a mid-level prospect and some salary relief by the trade deadline. Contending teams are always in need of starting pitching, and Burnett is a solid fallback option for the teams that don't have enough to pursue Hamels, Lee or David Price.
Impatience with The Piece
How much longer do the Phillies give Ryan Howard to correct this?
He's hit one home run over his last 101 plate appearances and went 5 for 53 in his final 15 games before the All-Star break.
Howard has hit .220 this season with a .300 on-base percentage and just 26 extra-base hits. He's not getting on base, he's not driving the ball with consistency, and given his issues running and fielding, he's not providing the Phillies much of anything in the middle of their order.
Ruben Amaro Jr. said a few weeks ago that if the veterans can't get it done, he'll find players who will. That would seem to include Howard, who is halfway through his $125 million contract but already looking like dead weight on a team with a bloated payroll.
The options with Howard are to leave him where he is, to move him down to sixth or seventh in the order (where he probably belongs), or to platoon him.
His OPS is actually 40 points higher vs. lefties (.711) than his mark against righties (.671), but Howard has walked less and struck out way more against same-handed pitching.
Santana for Atlanta
Starting for the Braves in this first game after the break is right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 7-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 17 starts.
Santana was great through mid-May, then stumbled to a month's worth of poor starts, raising his ERA from 1.99 to 4.10 in just five outings.
He's been better of late, however, allowing 11 runs on 30 baserunners over his last 27 innings with 24 strikeouts.
Santana has already faced the Phillies three times this season and gone 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
This and that
• Ben Revere was the hottest Phillie before the break, hitting .391 in his final 17 games with three extra-base hits, six steals and eight runs scored. He's hit exactly .300 with a .327 on-base percentage in 173 games as a Phillie.
• Byrd has eerily similar home and road splits.
At home, he's 48 for 181 (.265) with 25 runs, 10 doubles, 10 homers and 12 walks.
On the road, he's 47 for 180 (.261) with 24 runs, 10 doubles, eight homers and 12 walks.
• Domonic Brown has been slightly more productive in July, hitting .273 with a double, a homer and eight RBIs in 35 plate appearances. Still, his batting average hasn't been as high as .230 since all the way back on May 10.
• The only player in baseball with more strikeouts than Howard is Braves centerfielder B.J. Upton. With all of the mistakes and disastrous moves the Phillies have made the last three years, could you imagine if they signed Upton before 2013? The Phils reportedly offered Upton five years and $55 million, which was $20 million fewer than the Braves gave him. The Phils' front office should feel lucky Atlanta took that potential monstrosity of a contract away from them.