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Phillies have many holes to fill before they make a playoff run

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The Phillies took a good first step this week in their attempt to climb back into firstRoy Halladay. Photo: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/baseball/national-league-roundup/article1629556/ place in the NL East against their division rival Atlanta Braves.

Greg Dobbs provided his biggest hit in two years with his sixth-inning two run blast off Braves' starter Derek Lowe. Add a botched squeeze attempt followed by a base hit from Juan Castro  and you have yourself an insurance run. Roy Halladay  throws 93 pitches for his seventh complete game of the season and you've got yourself a 3-1 win. It's that simple, right?

Let's not kid ourselves here: This was about as close as a MUST WIN at this midway point of the season as you could get for the Phillies. This team has aged before our very eyes and now resembles a M.A.S.H. unit. Any production you can get right now from the 6-8 hole is something just short of a miracle. If the Fightins lost this game, you're looking at a six game defecit in the division. As I've previously stated, they've come back from worse, but that was three years ago, the team was younger, and they certainly weren't THIS hobbled. Make no mistake, this team has some pretty big issues. Consider this:

1. The bullpen does not have ONE consistent pitcher: You know who they are, so I'm not getting into it. The back of the pen was not properly addressed in the 2009 off-season (but to be fair, Chan Ho Park balked at the Phillies offer). In 2008, the Phils had one of the best pens if not THE best pen in baseball. Bring back Scott Mathieson  NOW! I know, I know, he didn't look exactly sharp in his lone appearance this year, but some young blood might be what this team needs right now while the injuries mount. There might be such a thing as TOO many veterans. Back in 1980, Keith Moreland, Lonnie Smith, and Bob Walk came in and added a spark to a Phillies squad laden with complacent veterans. Not that the 2010 Phillies clubhouse was anywhere NEAR the 1980 clubhouse as far as morale goes (and that's a good thing). However, this core of this group has been through a lot over the past four years. How exactly do you stay motivated through the regular season after playing in the last two World Series? Bad news is, the Phils are pretty much stuck with what they have out there. A deal might be made for a reliever, but this thing can't be band-aided, so cross your fingers....................

2. Not only has the bench not improved, but they are now starting: Remember when the Phillies WEREN'T in the post-season, and Ed Wade and Pat Gillick still managed to scrounge up SOME form of a veteran at the trade deadline for a playoff push or to fill in for an injured player? (Michael Tucker, Jeff Conine, Jose Hernandez, Randall Simon, Matt Stairs,Tad Iguchi). I understand none of these guys are Hall of Famers, but where have guys like this been the last two years? Stairs obviously served his purpose in 2008, but had THREE hits after the eleventh of July last year!! It was SO bad in 2009 that Charlie Manuel had to use Cliff Lee (Man, he just won't go away will he?) as a pinch runner in Game Two of the NLDS vs. Colorado. If you are counting on Dobbs, Castro, Wilson Valdez, Dane Sardinha, Ben Fransisco, and Ross Gload to contribute regularly and effectively, well, you're barking up the wrong tree. Valdez has done an admirable job filling in for Rollins AND Chase Utley (and I love the way he pulls a Manny Trillo and rifles the ball to first). However, Dobbs is only back with the club because the Phillies are currently in the dictionary under "Walking Wounded." The other guys are what they are: borderline major leaguers who have become starters. It's not Charlie Manuel's  fault that they are pressed into starting duty. Ruben, PLEASE find an established veteran bench player at the trade deadline or sooner. Maybe even a guy who can swipe a base or two.

3. Veterans HAVE to step up, or else: I don't care what you are paying Raul Ibanez. Call up Domonic Brown and see what he can do. Yes, he is another lefty, but at this stage, who cares? Brown will in all likelihood be manning one of the corner outfield positions next year anyway. Shane Victorino needs to bring his average up- about forty points. Jimmy Rollins gets a pass. Ryan Howard is getting base hits, but not many homers. People ragged on him about his average. Well guess what? Which Howard do you like better? Exactly. He needs to start bashing again because let's face it: I was at that game Monday night. After Jayson Werth made on out, there was a sinking feeling you could feel from the entire stadium that the Phillies offensive was doomed until the next time Rollins stepped up to the plate. Yes, Dobbs homered, but when will that happen again? This team really should be manufacturing runs. However, the Phillies and "small ball" don't exactly see eye to eye.

4. Another starter would be nice, but the starters are the least of the team's concerns at this time: Halladay is as advertised (although it will be interesting to see him pitch a playoff game if the Phillies re lucky to get that far in 2010). Who would have thought that Cole Hamels would (for the most part) turn it around? There is always the potential for him to pop-off again at a moments notice. I get on Hamels quite a bit for some stuff he says, but truthfully, he should have about three more wins than he does. No, I still don't trust Jamie Moyer in a big situation despite his nine wins. Joe Blanton HAS to get past that seventh inning, especially against a team like the Pirates. Kyle Kendrick is what he is: a fifth starter. J.A. Happ's progress down on the farm has not been encouraging, so counting on him could be a stretch. No, Lee isn't coming here. As of this writing, it looks like Lee is headed to the Twins. No, I'm not happy with that, but it's better than having him go to the Mets (I hope I don't eat my words for writing that).

I don't mean to paint a completely hopeless picture for the 2010 Phillies. It's still July, and a further assessment is needed once the team is completely healthy. Ryan Madson, Placido Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz should be returning in the near future, with Utley most likely returning at the end of August-early September. Yes, this team could be well rested to make a possible playoff run. However, neither Madson or Utley were that effective when they were in the lineup. After all, Madson got injured because he blew a save. Moreover, Madson's rehab outing wasn't exactly encouraging, either.

For now it's a wait and see approach. Stay tuned.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

Photo: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/baseball/national-league-roundup/article1629556/