After adding free agent closer Jonathan Papelbon to what projected to be baseball’s best pitching staff last offseason, Philadelphia looked set to extend its run of five straight division titles in 2012 in a weak NL East.
Injuries, inconsistency and surprisingly good play from division rivals have put that streak in jeopardy, as the Phillies sit 14 games out of first place and 13 games under .500 at the All Star break.
At 37-50, Philadelphia is fast approaching not only its first non-playoff season since 2006, but its first losing season in a decade.
Coupled with continued strong play from the Atlanta Braves and a losing record against the fourth-place Marlins, Philadelphia’s divisional record is a paltry 11-22 (.333 winning percentage), the worst such record among all16 National League teams.
For the Phillies to get back on the right track, they’ll have to start winning games against the teams they face most often.
Of the eight NL teams with winning records at the break, the Atlanta Braves are the only club with a losing divisional record.
The biggest contributor here is injuries. With second baseman Chase Utley and first baseman Ryan Howard each missing almost the entire first half, the middle of the order was without its two best hitters.
Philadelphia’s numbers aren’t terrible. They’re middle of the pack in MLB in runs (15th overall), slugging percentage (16th), on-base percentage (19th) and batting average (10th).
Those five pitchers alone have salaries worth more than the Opening Day payrolls of seven MLB teams—Pittsburgh, San Diego, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Houston, Oakland and Kansas City.
Of those seven clubs, only San Diego and Houston have worse records than Philadelphia.
Like all other parts of the team, the rotation has been hit by injuries. Halladay (4-5, 3.98 ERA) is the staff ace on a roster with three number-one starters, but a stay on the disabled list has limited him to just 11 appearances so far.
Lee ($21.5 million) joins Halladay as the two Phillies starters to earn $20 million or more this season, but is just 1-5 in 14 appearances (3.98).
Lee earned his first win of the season on July 4, some three months into the MLB season.
The Phils’ team ERA (4.23) and BAA (.260) rank 22nd and 21st in the majors, respectively, and although they are seventh in quality starts (51) and 12th in WHIP (1.28), the high-salary staff has so far been a disappointment.
Philadelphia has the kind of lineup that can put together a second-half surge.
The heart of the order in Utley, Rollins, Ruiz and Howard figures to be together for the first time after the All-Star break, and Lee, Hamels and Halladay each have the ability to carry Philadelphia to wins regardless of offense.
It will be up to Philadelphia management to decide whether or not they’ll move any of their big assets at the trade deadline in anticipation of a healthier campaign next season.