Since June 13, when the Phillies were at a season-best 13 games above .500, the team's offense has gone stale, perhaps exhausted from scoring 20 runs for the second time this season on that day. For the most part, Philadelphia has kept its challengers -- Florida and New York -- at bay in what will be a highly competitive race the rest of the way.
Look no further than a July 4-7 series against the Mets to gauge the Phillies' mindset. New York took three of four, giving it seven wins in 10 meetings vs. Philly this season. The Mets have steadily progressed up the standings to scare the Phillies for the second half.
"We don't want to be like the Mets last year and let it slip away when we have it in our grasp," catcher Chris Coste said. "We're trying not to let it get to us."
In March and April, the Phillies rode the bats of Chase Utley and Pat Burrell, who combined to hit .345 with 19 home runs and 48 RBIs. Their efforts were huge, as Jimmy Rollins missed most of the period with a sprained left ankle and Ryan Howard batted .168.
The swoon after June 13 has concerned manager Charlie Manuel.
"We're looking to see exactly who we are because we've played real good and then hit a snag," Manuel said. "This isn't the time to feel sorry for ourselves and get down. Now is the time when you've got to kick yourself in the butt and get up."
Manuel talked about the "commitment players make in Spring Training" -- one that extends well into October if things break right. And Manuel won't tolerate coasting.
"Pete Rose never coasted," Manuel said after a June 29 loss to the Rangers. "I used to see him on the street, and he'd be running -- seriously. He never coasted. He never sat in the dugout, stretched out, head down, like he was half-dead. You've got to get up. You've got to want to play. You've got to want to get to that next at-bat."
Though not specifically talking about his team, Manuel was making the point that the games get tougher as the season continues. Big leads can evaporate if you let up. Just ask the Mets.
|PHILLIES TOP PERFORMANCES|
5/15, PHI 5, ATL 0 -- Hamels dominates
Phillies ace Cole Hamels earns his first career complete-game shutout in blanking the Braves.
5/16, PHI 10, TOR 3 -- Werth's monster game
Jayson Werth homers three times and ties a club record with eight RBIs in the win.
5/26, PHI 20, COL 5 -- 20-run salute
Philadelphia's offense unloads on the Rockies, scoring six runs in the win in two separate innings.
6/2, PHI 5, CIN 4 -- Utley's homer tear
Chase Utley goes yard in the first to tie a club record with homers in five consecutive games.
6/6, PHI 4, ATL 3 -- Victorino's clutch toss
After giving Philly the lead in the top of the 10th, Shane Victorino caps the win by gunning down the tying run at the plate with a tremendous throw.
The Phillies' June-July slip has been documented, analyzed and reanalyzed, and the general clubhouse mood is: "We're still in first place, but don't give it up."
"We've worked hard to get to where we are, and obviously don't want to throw it away," veteran lefty Jamie Moyer said.
The second half brings questions of a bullpen dealing with the loss of setup man Tom Gordon, who could be out a month with right elbow inflammation. Rudy Seanez (back spasms) and J.C. Romero (groin) have been slowed. Brad Lidge has been perfect this season, though the law of averages suggest that he's going to blow a save eventually.
Help might arrive in the form of a rejuvenated Brett Myers or an outside acquisition, but the players still have to perform. And with the second half about to start, the Phillies believe that they play better after the All-Star break.
"We're a second-half team," Shane Victorino said. "We've shown that over the past few years. We've been able to come back and play well late in the season. Why can't we do it again?"