Live Or Let Die: The Plight Of The Phillies

It’s the end of the first half of baseball season, but it’s starting to seem like both a whole lot more and a whole lot less all at once in Philadelphia. See, the Phillies have been bad; no other way to say it. By the lofty standards of the most consistent club in baseball over the last half-decade has set, it’s been a loud fall back to Earth. One that has seemingly come out of nowhere, but by looking a bit closer, the Phillies have been prone for this to happen.

More than any other team in the game, the Phillies have lived in the moment the last few years. They smelled blood before they won their first World Series in over 25 years back in 2008, and ever since their return to the Series and subsequent defeat a year later, they’ve been out for it with every move they’ve made. In 2010 and ’11, they added the best pitcher in the world at the time, Roy Halladay, and the twice acquired ex-Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, locked up Ryan Howard to the biggest deal in the history of his position, and tacked on the brightest bricks on a crumbling Houston Astros club in Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. All of these were big-money, win-now moves, and the results were in line with what should have been: They dominated seasons on end and won, a lot. All of that adds up to being on the right track, right? Well, you would think so …

But then the reality of this method kicked in full-speed this season, and it became abundantly clear: There was a lot less time left for the Phils than assumed coming into the year. I’m not sure who’s the mayor of Philly, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he’s name is Murphy, cause his Law is real and enforced non-stop this year. Any and everything that could possibly go wrong has, and has happened early and often. A piñata full of injuries, toil, struggle and expiring contracts has closed the window on the winningest team of its era, and now some answers have to be found quick.

So to live or let die? At one point this year, Charlie Manuel could look at his disabled list and see as much as $25 million of 2012 dollars gathered together at once in Howard, Halladay and Chase Utley, with no idea when or if they’d be available to steady the ship. Meanwhile, the ship that is left isn’t in much better shape. It took Lee, through various faults of his own and others, no less than three months and three days to get his first win. Stakes are high, and nobody can get it together long enough to turn the ship around.

After all of that, what to do? You’d think the answer would be simple: make moves, get some life in the squad or call it a day. The biggest problem is that when there’s a team with this much potential, this many of the game’s premier talents combined, can you ever really count them out? A 10-game difference in the division is tough, maybe even impossible to close, but when do you say when? This team is supposed to win, and not just NL East titles. No, it’s supposed to win Series, of the capital S variety. If the decision gets made to give up even one piece, it’s admission of that goal being over. It shows that it’s time to circle back for another run, later on. That’s not a decision that’s easy to make when you’ve yet to see a lineup with Howard, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence and potential batting champ Carlos Ruiz all play behind a healthy Halladay/Lee/Hamels staff. GM Ruben Amaro has gone from having one of the most to least desirable jobs in the game in a shorter amount of time than it takes for a Howard homer to clear right field.

But that’s exactly the problem ... that’s a ton of “ifs” with a lot of definite decisions needing to be made immediately. Utley’s already back, and Howard will follow him this weekend. Halladay is throwing and should be back after the All-Star break. For the first time since last October, things are looking up.

Yet at the same time, while things are looking better, things are looking cloudier. Cole Hamels has three months left as Phillie before he becomes the biggest free agent in baseball. Shane Victorino is also coming up short on his contract. Both could fetch a ton in the way of prospects to help replace the wealth they had to put out in order to build this team. It would be foolish to just let both walk out the door and get nothing in return at the end of a long, dead season that just wasn’t called on time.

These are tough times in Philly, made tougher by the fact it wasn’t a stumble, but cliff dive from grace. If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that a second-half sprint is far from impossible. But when there’s so much ground to be made up, and it all hinges on an all-or-nothing call to either take a knee or stick to your guns, what do you do? Either way, no half stepping will be allowed, or it’s taking place in a city with no short memory of its slights.

Sleep well, Mr. Amaro … and perhaps with at least one eye open.

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