The Phillies have reached the midway point of their season, and the overwhelming hot topic about the team is whether they should be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Rather than go on “gut reaction,” I’ve decided to list the areas of the Phillies team and season that are likely to be better, worse or stay the same in the second half. Given that the Phillies are currently 7.5 games out of a playoff spot, the improvements would have to largely outweigh the regressions for this team to have good reason to trade away prospects to make a playoff run.
Offense: The offense has been mediocre this year due to a lack of above-average young offensive talent and a plethora of old, injury-prone former stars. But they actually haven’t been as bad as people think, currently tied for 9th among the 15 National League teams with 320 runs scored (the same as the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the best record in baseball). Injuries, particularly to Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard have played a role in their sputtering production—but, given their most competent hitters’ advanced ages, the Phillies will probably have more injuries in the second half of the season. Projection: same.
Defense: The Phils defense is primarily notable for its absolutely awful defense at third base (Michael Young), first base (Ryan Howard) and right field (Delmon Young). The Phillies should cut Delmon Young, who has also struggled at the plate until very recently. The rest of the defense ranges from above average when healthy (Jimmy Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Freddy Galvis) to competent (Dominic Brown) to speedy but erratic (Ben Revere). None of this is likely to change. Projection: same, slightly better if the Phils cut Delmon Young.
Starting Pitching: Starting pitching is this team’s strength, and it stands to be a little better in the second half of the season for three reasons: John Lannan is now healthy, Cole Hamels is likely to pitch better than he has so far, and the Phillies don’t have to deal with an injured Roy Halladay start every fifth day anymore. Projection: better
Relief Pitching: This bullpen is what it is, and it stinks—their league-worst earned run average is the biggest contributor to the Phils’ tough fist half. With the exception of Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies relievers are a who’s who list of being erratic and inconsistent. Bullpens, unfortunately, are very difficult to improve mid-season. Projection: same.
Schedule: The Phillies have a tougher second half schedule than their first half schedule. In particular, they have to play the division-leading Atlanta Braves fifteen times in July-September, compared with three times in April-June. Projection: worse
Luck: The Phillies are just 5 games under .500 despite posting a -46 run differential. Given their weak bullpen, there’s no good reason for this except good luck, and it’s likely to even out in the second half. Projection: worse.
Intangibles: The team’s always had a professional clubhouse that won’t quit, and they still do. There’s also the team’s tendency to always play better in the second half of the season—and it’s happened enough years in a row, that it’s hard to discount that tendency. Projection: better
Emotionally, I would love to see the core of stars that led the Phillies run of success in 2007-2011 remain on the team. But, looking at the above projections, this team realistically projects to finishing the season slightly above or slightly below .500. Given their weak farm system, the Phillies should look to be sellers at the trade deadline and flip quality players like Papelbon, Utley (if healthy), Ruiz (if healthy) and perhaps even ace Cliff Lee for prospects.