Sarah's take: Time for Phillies to focus on future

Sarah's take: Time for Phillies to focus on future

Sarah's take: Time for Phillies to focus on future
From 2007-11, the Philadelphia Phillies dominated the National League East and won the second world championship in franchise history.

When this season began, most baseball people believed they would challenge for another NL East title. They haven't. They are last in their division. Now, many baseball writers expect them to them trade some of their expensive talent before the July 31 Trade Deadline.

Many people ask, "What happened?" A year removed from having the best record in baseball, the Phillies have one of the worst.

Although Ruben Amaro Jr., the general manager of the Phillies, didn't attempt to re-sign Roy Oswalt, on paper the Phillies still have an excellent starting rotation. Nevertheless, the starters need to perform. This season, the Phillies have the eighth-best starting rotation in the league, whereas last year they had the best.

Roy "Doc" Halladay, who is considered one of the best starters in baseball, recently returned from the disabled list after recovering from a shoulder injury. Cole Hamels is in the last year of his contract and figures to be the most sought-after free agent in baseball this winter. The talk of whether he will stay in Philadelphia or be traded must be a distraction.

Cliff Lee has performed as one of the best left-handed starters in baseball. However, with almost no offensive support, Lee has only one win this year. Last time he pitched, he should have won when he went eight innings, allowing only a solo home run, but Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitched equally well. Neither starter was involved in the decision.

Even though Amaro signed Jonathan Papelbon to give the Phillies a bona fide closer, the team has the second worst bullpen in the league. No team with a bad bullpen can contend seriously for a division title.

Since the Phillies chose not to re-sign Jayson Werth, because they couldn't afford to keep him, they haven't had a strong offense. This season, despite playing in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies have scored only the seventh-most runs in the National League. Although that should be enough to be competitive, it can't overcome their bullpen problems.

Carlos Ruiz, the All-Star catcher, is the Phillies' offensive star. Throughout his career, he has handled the Phillies' pitching staff well. His defensive talents have prevented the opponent from scoring many runs, and this has helped his pitching staff. Ruiz has been durable. Last year he caught a 19-inning game. However, his offensive production didn't catch many headlines before this season.

His batting average is fourth in the league. When the Phillies have runners in scoring position, Ruiz delivers. His slugging percentage is fifth-highest in the National League. Undoubtedly, as the season advances, Ruiz's offensive production will decrease, because catching on a daily basis takes a toll. However, his surprising offensive production helped the Phillies live without Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, both of whom have since returned from serious injuries.

Since the St. Louis Cardinals eliminated the Phillies from the 2011 playoffs, the Phils knew they would have to play most of the first half of the season without the services of Howard. While making the last out of the NL Division Series, Howard tore his Achilles' tendon. Despite having an infection that setback his recovery for a couple of weeks, Howard returned to the lineup from this painful injury before the All-Star break, and yet he hasn't regained his offensive prowess. The serious injury has robbed him of his limited speed, so he is a liability at first base and often clogs up the basepaths.

For the second consecutive season, Utley has missed most of the first half of the season with serious knee problems. Since he signed a seven-year contract in 2007, the Phillies have depended on his offensive production. However, his chronic knee condition makes it difficult for him to stay on the field and perform at the level that he used to, and this hurts the Phillies.

Because the Phillies have been to the playoffs for five consecutive years, they haven't had high Draft picks. Amaro has spent most of his money on the Major League roster, so the Phillies don't have much organizational depth. When they experience an injury to an important player, they can't promote a Minor Leaguer. Amaro constantly seeks veterans to fill the shortcomings. This sometimes works out well, but at other times it hurts the Phillies. Since they are an older team, they experience more injuries and declining performances from their top players.

Although historically under Charlie Manuel the Phillies have played better after the All-Star break, they have dug themselves a hole that they aren't likely to climb out of to reach the playoffs. Amaro should sell every player who can be a free agent after this year for Minor League prospects. If he can't build up organizational depth soon, the Phillies probably will be a mediocre team for years to come.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.