That certainly sounds strange given that the Phillies trail the Nats by 10 games in the NL East standings and that the team broke spring training with a franchise-record payroll that exceeded $180 million.
Though only the Dodgers and Yankees have spent more on payroll this season, the Phillies finished the first half in the bottom six in runs, total bases, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
And, of course, wins.
The Phillies have performed this well with only one significant injury this season (Cliff Lee) and with the nucleus of the lineup intact. Chase Utley, the Phils’ lone All-Star, appeared in 91 games. So too did Jimmy Rollins and 2013 All-Star, Dom Brown.
Ryan Howard, who missed 173 games over the last two seasons, has missed just two games this season.
And yet the Phillies are in last place by 10 games and 11 under .500.
A glimmer of hope?
“I’m not pleased. Not pleased with the record,” rookie manager Ryne Sandberg said. “We showed spurts of improvement as of late but things to look forward to the second part of the season -- having Cliff Lee back in a short period of time, (Carlos) Ruiz will be back -- so we do get to pretty much full strength.”
Still, the Phillies haven’t impressed even when at full strength. Twice they have put together five-game winning streaks only to lose multiple games. Wedged between the pair of five-game winning streaks was a stretch in which the Phillies lost nine out of 10.
Maybe what we see is what we get?
“I think we can play better than we have,” Utley, who will spend a couple of days of the All-Star break in Minnesota, said. “We’ve shown some glimpses of it here and there. But we’ve got to continue to grind and continue to put out that effort every day.”
Regardless, Sunday’s loss to the Nationals was the first half writ large. It took only 10 pitches for Kyle Kendrick to put the Phillies into a three-run deficit when he served up a homer to ex-teammate Jayson Werth.
Kendrick’s first-inning woes are nothing new -- he’s allowed 24 earned runs in the opening inning in his 19 starts (see story) -- but it’s no less troubling. Take away the first inning and Kendrick has a 3.63 ERA, though that seems meaningless. How could Kendrick get any worse after the first inning?
Actually, Kendrick didn’t think the three-run first in Sunday’s loss was that bad. A pitch bounces here or there and it turns out different, he reasoned.
“(Leadoff hitter Denard) Span hit an 0-2 changeup and found a hole and (Anthony) Rendon hit a cutter and Jayson, I hung a curveball,” Kendrick said. “I think it’s just quality of pitches. I have to keep working at it. I will fix it.”
Kendrick has eight scoreless first innings and the Phillies have broken even in those games. Perhaps that’s why the pitcher feels as if the Phillies will be able to get on a roll in the second half.
“I think we will be fine. We have to take one game at a time and put up some Ws,” Kendrick said. “That is all we can really look on right now.”
Of course there is a matter of scoring runs, which has been quite difficult for the Phillies this season. Though they made the most of their chances during their recent winning streak, going 13 for 36 (.361) with runners in scoring position, the Phillies fell back on old habits in Sunday’s loss. They went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position against the Nats and that one hit came in the ninth inning when the team was trailing by nine runs.
When the game was on the line, the Phillies got the leadoff man on base in the third, fifth and sixth innings and mustered just one run.
The Phillies are hitting just .229 with runners in the scoring position. They haven’t been this bad with runners in scoring position since they batted .223 in 1971.
“That part’s been surprising,” Sandberg said. “When we’ve had our good series and played our good games, we had offensive punch in there but it would turn overnight and turn cold. That’s something, consistent offense and key hits, that’ll be needed in the remainder of games.”
And yet the relatively healthy, $180 million team is holding out hope for the second half. Ten games out and 11 under has left the Phillies with that glimmer of hope.
“I don’t think that’s what you set out for during spring training,” Utley said. “But at this point all we can try to do is continue to try to get better and that’s the name of the game.”
It’s break time for the Phillies. The team is off until Friday when it will reconvene in Atlanta to kick off the second half. That ever-glimmering ray of hope for the second half begins with A.J. Burnett (6-8, 3.83) on the mound.