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At The Half: Looking Good … For Now

Now that the All-Star break is here, the Phillies find themselves in first place in the National League East, a tight 0.5 games up on the Mets (tied in the loss column), who have rolled off nine straight wins.

I feel completely fine.

Sure the Phils could have a much larger lead in the East, but a lead is a lead, and the Phils have rarely held first place in anything for this long (they’ve been in first since June 1). They’re doing it despite a full pitching staff and a streaky offense.

Of course, the rest of the division is mediocre. The Mets, while playing well lately, aren’t necessarily a dominant team. Their offense is as streaky as the Phils’, while their bullpen is in much worse shape. The Marlins are inexperienced and aren’t particularly strong with pitching. The Braves are oft-injured and each part of that team features many holes. It remains that the Phils are the most complete team in the division.

This doesn’t mean the Phils are made in the shade. Uh uh. In fact, the Phils must improve. It’s no guarantee this lead will remain, and it’s very evident the Phils need to match up better with the class teams of Major League Baseball.

The Phils need another starting pitcher capable of going seven-to-eight innings most times. If they can’t get that, they need a full five pitchers capable of going six and giving up two-to-three runs. I don’t know if AJ Burnett or Erik Bedard would cut it. I don’t think Carlos Carrasco is really the answer. The real answer is Brett Myers; his demise may have completely ruined the team’s World Series hopes.

Since the idea of a solid No. 2 might be out the window, the Phils could be safe if they find two pieces that fit the Kyle Kendrick/Jamie Moyer mold. Is it Carrasco and Myers? Myers and Happ? Happ and Maddux? Byrd and Maddux? Whatever it is, it has to be found, and soon.

In order to beat teams with two great pitchers (read Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks), the Phils need to be more patient and situational at the dish. This falls mostly on Jimmy Rollins. The Phils offense is best when there’s line-drive hitting balancing out the big boppers. Shane Victorino has done his best Jimmy-lite impression this season, but a hole still remains. Either Rollins plays better and consistently, or the necessity for one or two line-drive bats will be high.

And the other main issue is bullpen insurance. Tom Gordon is on the DL and can’t be relied upon. JC Romero isn’t a complete answer for the back end. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin look great, but can’t be bounced around. Even Brad Lidge needs to be limited. Clearly the Phils need another lefty reliever and one more solid Durbin-esque piece. The former may have to be Brian Fuentes; the latter could be almost anything, from a resurrected Brett Myers to a bargain-bin option.

I’ll outline all these needs in detail throughout the week.

So how many pieces are the Phillies from being a top club? Probably three. One real solid starter; one good bat; one insurance reliever. The rest could fall into place from there. But it’s clear to see the Phils do need some pieces.

In the first half the Phils assembled showed they were the best team in a slightly above-average NL East. Now they’ll have to adjust to compete with the absolute best and reach World Series contention status.

Right now I feel completely fine. But if it’s this team three months from now, I’ll be pretty sick to my stomach.

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