By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Now that both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are finally back in the Phillies lineup will it be enough for the second half run for either the National League East title or the National League Wildcard berth?
“It might take a little awhile,” Manuel said. “Utley is starting to swing a little bit better. Utley got off to a good start in his first game. At the same,. Utley showed that he’s stronger. He’s running better and hopefully it won’t take those two long to get into a groove and get going.”
Howard had a pretty decent first day back, going 2-for-4with a double and a single. He looked like he had no problems playing in the field. Unfortunately, the slugger’s performance didn’t translate into a victory for the struggling Phillies.
No matter what Howard or Utley do on offense, the Phillies chances of getting back into the playoff race depend on how fast the Phillies young relievers can grow up and shut teams down in the middle to late innings to get to closer Jonathan Papelbon. In the first half of the season, the bullpen’s penchant for not either blowing leads late in games or not keeping the Phillies in games has been a consistent nightmare.
“I think if the bullpen would grow up quick. I think that might help us,” Manuel said. “If I had a crystal ball, that would be the first thing I would try to tackle.”
Manuel really wished he had that magic wand for his relievers in Friday’s 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves. After starter Kyle Kendrick pitched seven scoreless innings, Antonio Bastardo came into the eight inning, gave up five runs, walked three batters including one that scored a run and gave up two hits including a grand-slam home run to Braves catcher Brian McCann that broke open a close game.
“With the bases loaded, there’s always a chance, he might get a little wild, but still I definitely feel I have to go with him because he’s our best lefty down there right now,” Manuel said. “We got to put somebody in there that we’ve got to get some experience and have faith in them. I put him in there to get lefties out.”
That bullpen meltdown sent fans into the exits and no matter how hard Howard and Utley hit the ball, the the Phillies bullpen woes continues to be an albatross hanging over their hopes for fighting their way back into contention.
“When we’re in games…something always creeps in that nails us down in the end,” Manuel said. “We’ve got to get over that, we’ve got to come out and play harder, stay positive, have a lot of fun and concentrate on winning the game.”
Since Utley’s been back in the lineup, the Phillies (37-48) have been 1-8 and not only lost with Howard in the lineup on Friday, they failed to score a run.. They are 13 games behind the first-place Washington Nationals in the National League East. They are 0-38 in games when trailing after the eighth.
But Howard said he still believes the Phillies are going to be in the heat of the pennant race before it’s said and done.
“In a situation like this, yeah, it’s looks bleak, but there’s still a lot of ball to play and like I said we hold our own destiny, ” Howard said. “It’s a matter of going out and winning series. You’re not going to go out and win every single game. If you can go out and win a series, the next you know you’re going to find yourself in the mix.”