PHILADELPHIA – For nearly three months, the battle cry surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies was this: Just wait until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are back.
Well, they’re here and the Phillies can’t win with them.
They’ve lost 10 of 11 since Utley, the five-time All-Star second baseman, made his season debut on June 27. They lost three straight games after Howard, the former N.L. MVP, returned last weekend.
The five-time defending N.L. East champions limped into the All-Star break at 37-50 after setting a franchise-record with 102 wins last year. They’re on pace to become the first team in major league history to lose 90 games the season after winning 100.
When the second half resumes today, the Phillies will face a monumental challenge if they are to extend their postseason streak to six years. They are 14 games behind first-place Washington and trail Atlanta by 10 games for the second wild-card spot.
After having the best record in the majors in each of the last two seasons, the Phillies have the fifth-worst mark in the N.L. this year.
Manager Charlie Manuel has run out of explanations.
“The way we play, it’s not good enough to win and we don’t win because we don’t play good enough,” Manuel said before the All-Star break. “We have trouble playing the games completely. We get outplayed and that’s what happens.”
Injuries have clearly been a major part of the problem for the Phillies. They went nearly three months without their Nos. 3-4 hitters in the lineup, and ace Roy Halladay hasn’t pitched since May.
Despite their record since Utley and Howard returned, missing the two sluggers hurt the offense. The Phillies were 9-16 in one-run games that Howard and Utley didn’t start. Flip that around and the Phillies would be 44-43 and right in the mix.
Losing Halladay forced Kyle Kendrick to stay in the rotation. He’s 2-8, including 1-4 since Halladay went down.
But the Phillies can’t blame their disastrous first half on injuries alone. Several key players have underperformed. Cliff Lee didn’t get his first win until July 4. Shane Victorino is hitting .245. Jimmy Rollins is at .256. Hunter Pence, despite solid overall numbers, has a .226 average with runners in scoring position.
The bullpen, except for All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon, has been abysmal. The other relievers combined are 6-12 with a 5.01 ERA.
Add in sloppy defense, mental lapses, baserunning miscues, and poor execution of fundamentals.
That’s why the Phillies are in unfamiliar territory, looking up at the rest of the division in the standings.