The Philadelphia Phillies began the second half of the season in heartbreaking fashion on June 29. After the Phillies beat the Los Angeles Dodgers by 16-1 on June 28, the Dodgers got revenge with a 4-3 walk-off win after giving up a ninth-inning lead. But such craziness was par for the course for Philadelphia in its first 81 games, so the next 81 couldn’t have started any other way.
The Phillies were an average team record wise, as they went 39-42 in the opening half of the season. Yet they are no ordinary 39-42 team, as they got there under the shadow of injuries, disappointments, trade rumors, rumored breakups and the occasional bright spot.
While Philadelphia has been fairly bad in the last three months, it has rarely been boring, in spite of how boring its offense can be. This is a team with an ace that is 2-11, another ace that’s virtually out for the season, and with a closer that’s seemingly trying to pitch his way out of town. Yet the Phillies also have one of the hottest sluggers in the game, a rejuvenated third ace, and are in an NL East that improbably isn’t out of reach.
The Phillies are bound to have an equally eventful second half, even if they don’t fire anyone up with a last-ditch winning streak. Yet it could be an historic stretch anyway, if it leads to trades and firings that put an official end to this golden age of Philadelphia baseball.
Here is a list of the events and twists that defined the first half of the season, and led to what may soon be the end of the Phillies as we know them.
Halladay goes down
A lot of hope for this Phillies’ season ended as early as May 5, when Roy Halladay went down. Halladay ugly 2012 season was excused by injury, but his mediocre start to 2013 was harder to ignore, especially when the lowly Miami Marlins slaughtered him at home.
This led to Halladay revealing he was pitching with a sore shoulder, and he hasn’t been back since — and might never be back in Philadelphia.
Hamels becomes ace of losses
Halladay was no longer the Phillies’ No. 1 ace before the season even started. Cole Hamels took that position back, yet has spent all season trying to give it back. Instead of leading the Phillies back into contention, he has led all of baseball in losses with a 2-11 record.
Lee is Phillies’ Big One ace
While Halladay and Hamels have tumbled, Philadelphia’s third ace has become the last man standing. Lee is 9-2 and would have even more wins if not for a lack of support, as just one mistake often does him in. It happened on June 29 when Lee gave up a three-run homer in the first inning, and got a no-decision despite being nearly flawless afterwards.
Yet despite being the only winner on the staff, the Phillies may have to trade Lee anyway to start the rebuilding process, which really says it all.
Papelbon loses grip on fundamentals
The Phillies’ middle relievers took most of the heat for the bullpen’s rotten performance, especially since closer Jonathan Papelbon had been reliable — when he got a chance to pitch. But it all came crashing down during a series with the Washington Nationals from June 17-19, when he blew two saves and attacked the Phillies themselves for a lack of fundamentals.
After blowing a few more saves since, Papelbon is close to wearing out his welcome in Philadelphia — especially with his expensive contract — and may be the second biggest trade bait option after Lee.
Brown delivers at last
Before mid-May, Brown was considered a flop after years of hype and underachieving stretches. Yet in a matter of weeks, Brown slugged his way to the top of the NL home run charts, as his 21 home runs and 57 RBIs have made him All-Star worthy.
Given that the Phillies may need to start over soon, having Brown as the cornerstone of a new era would be extra helpful.
Howard collapse continues
Once upon a time, 21 homers and 57 RBIs was an average first half for Howard. Now he’ll be lucky to get 20 homers for this entire season.
It got so bad that Howard was benched for the first two games of the Dodgers series, in hope that he’ll get a jumpstart starting on June 30 — a jumpstart he needs for the sake of his future and Philadelphia’s.
Manuel’s final days?
While Lee, Papelbon, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins may be expendable before the trade deadline, the fate of Charlie Manuel is equally uncertain.
Many already expected this to be Manuel’s final season before Ryne Sandberg took over in 2014. But if the Phillies don’t pick things up, he might not even make it that long.