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SportsPulse: For The Win’s Ted Berg breaks down the top storylines that will dominate the second half of the MLB season.
USA TODAY

PHILADELPHIA — With the All-Star Break over and baseball poised to resume, Andy MacPhail sat in the Phillies’ dugout late Friday afternoon clearly cognizant of the task facing his team.

It seemed rather daunting.

The Phillies president of baseball operations stared across the diamond into the dugout of the visiting Washington Nationals, in the midst of a surge the Phillies would love to replicate. The Nats arrived at Citizens Bank Park having won 28 of their last 39.

MacPhail acknowledged that if the season ended Friday, the Phillies and their National League rival Nationals would be matched up in the wild-card game, the perilous one-and-done last resort for postseason entries.

The victor of that game will likely be matched up in the NL divisional playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who on Friday had a 60-32 record that made for a .652 win percentage — 59 points higher than the next-best NL team, the East-leading Braves.

“This homestand is gonna be a test,” MacPhail said. “We’re playing the hottest team in baseball since June 1 in Washington. We’re getting their 1-2-3 starters. And then we get the best team with the best record in baseball the next four games [when the Dodgers visit], so we’re gonna get an idea just then just how we are.”

It didn’t start well as Washington prevailed 4-0. 

In sizing up the Phillies’ postseason prospects, MacPhail conceded they need to play better and get better.

The former is the baseball team’s job.

The latter is up to him and general manager Matt Klentak. This is the month it has to happen through trades, which this year absolutely must be completed by July 31.

They’ve gotta make deals.

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Phillies will be “judicious” at trade deadline, MacPhail said, as one deal won’t make team World Series favorite
Kevin Tresolini, The News Journal

In that regard, MacPhail said, assessing the Phillies’ standing in relation to the rest of the National League, it’s important to be “judicious with your playing talent” since the Phillies likely have a more difficult path to the World Series than the likes of Atlanta and Los Angeles.

He had just mentioned the Cubs’ 2016 July acquisition of closer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees for four players, including top-rated Cubs prospect Gleybar Torres, now a starting infielder with the Yankees. Adding Chapman was critical to the Cubs’ eventual World Series championship.

A similar Phillies trade was their 2010 swap of young pitcher J.A. Happ and top prospects Jonathan Villar and Anthony Gose to Houston for Roy Oswalt.

This year is different for the Phillies.

“It’s hard for us to make the judgment now we’re one trade away from the World Series,” MacPhail said. “We don’t believe it … That doesn’t mean you can’t make a bigger type of deal.”

Clearly, the Phillies need to improve their starting rotation that went into Friday with an earned-run average (4.56) that ranked 10th in the NL.

They have also given up an astounding 153 home runs, 22 more than the next NL team Colorado, which plays half its games in the thin air of Denver.

“You can’t win that way,” MacPhail said.

It doesn’t help that Jake Arrieta, whose next start is Sunday, will be pitching with painful bone spurs in his right elbow.

“I think it’s something that I can manage,” Arrieta said optimistically Friday, “that we can work with and try and get through the rest of the season.”  

While Aaron Nola has rounded back into ace form, Arrieta and other starters Nick Pivetta, who went Friday, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez have not lived up to their lofty preseason expectations.

“I acknowledge that we are uneven,” MacPhail said. “Our starters will give us two good starts and we’ll get over the hump and the next thing you know they’re out of there in the fourth in the next one.”

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Arrieta: “I think it’s something that I can manage, that we can work with and try and get through the rest of the season.”
Kevin Tresolini, The News Journal

The injury-plagued bullpen has also been woefully inconsistent. Pat Neshek (hamstring) was moved to the 60-day disabled list Friday and said he isn’t likely to be ready to pitch until early or mid-September.

If they’re going to compete for a postseason playoff berth and then actually be a worthy postseason contender, the Phillies have to add a starter, maybe two, in the coming weeks. But the Phillies seem to also lack the minor-league assets to pull off the type of blockbuster trade that might net a truly significant player, if one becomes available.

Just two Phillies are on MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects — third baseman Alec Bohm at No. 38 and right-handed pitcher Adonis Medina at No. 77 — and it’s doubtful they’d be inclined to deal either. Both play at Double-A Reading.

Only Bohm, who could be the Phillies’ regular third baseman by next year, made last week’s baseballprospectus.com Top 50 at No. 41. Sixto Sanchez, the hard-throwing pitcher the Phillies dealt to the Marlins to get catcher J.T. Realmuto in the offseason, is 22nd on the MLB.com prospects assessment.

As for those already wearing Phillies uniforms, they need to start playing much better after they slip them on, especially the starting pitchers.

“I look at the second half of the season as a new half,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “and an opportunity to get a fresh look at our organization and our starting pitching.’’

The series against the Nationals and Dodgers, he added, are important “to set the tone for the rest of the season. We’re prepared to do exactly that.” 

Contact Kevin Tresolini at ktresolini@delawareonline.com and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. 

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