ATLANTA — The 2012 Phillies died as they lived: like a train wreck. It was a hard death, but it was also a necessary one. In order to move forward, the Phillies first needed to eliminate all hope. And on Sunday afternoon, in a 6-2 loss that capped off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves, they did just that.
Even if we were to acknowledge the mathematic possibility that a team can overcome a 12-game deficit in 2 months' time, we could say with near certainty that the Phillies are not that team. The simple truth is that this roster is not capable of winning at a 70 percent clip when Roy Halladay is pitching like a mere mortal, which is what the veteran righthander continued to do at Turner Field. Three starts into his return from the disabled list, he has yet to reach the seventh inning or eclipse 100 pitches. After allowing three runs in six innings Sunday to the Braves, his focus was more on process than results, which is what every member of the organization's focus should be over the next couple of months.
"I got into some bad habits, arm-slot wise," said Halladay, who missed 7 weeks with a strained latissimus dorsi muscle. "It was a little low and side-to-side. I'm trying to get more top-to-bottom with it. That probably will affect the cutter more than anything, and curveball, too. I started getting underneath the ball. Sometimes, your body makes you do things to be comfortable. And once I started feeling good again, those were just things I had done continuously for a while and needed to be corrected."
Underline those last two sentences, because they are just as important as any trade that Ruben Amaro Jr. can make before Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline. While Halladay turned in a solid performance against the Braves, allowing three runs with seven strikeouts in six innings, he still wasn't the same pitcher who pitched seven, eight and nine innings with regularity in 2010 and 2011. He sounds convinced that he can get back to that point, even without the couple of miles an hour of velocity that he has lacked all season. At some point, the Phillies will need to consider whether that mission might be aided by some extra rest. According to Halladay, the lat strain is behind him. But his shoulder has experienced as much wear and tear as any pitcher in baseball over the last decade. After two straight shorter-than-normal offseasons, might the circumstances call for one that is longer than normal?
"I think the way baseball is nowadays, that could definitely come up," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm not saying that wouldn't be the right thing to do. But at the same time … he's building back up. He was out for 7 or 8 weeks. He's kind of building back up to where he was. It's taking him a while. At the same time, I can see him and Cliff Lee being just as good as they ever were."
Shutting Halladay down — or at least dialing down his workload — would not erase the fact that he is 35 years old. At the same time, an extra month or 2 of rest rarely affects the body negatively. Truth is, we have no idea how pitchers like Halladay tend to age, because we have no idea how significantly the test sample we can draw on was affected by the lack of drug-testing. Over the last five seasons, a pitcher aged 35 or over logged 200 innings or more on 13 occasions. In the five seasons prior, it happened 36 times.
All of the other philosophical issues facing the Phillies should be elementary. The three-game sweep by the Braves was a good thing. Instead of wasting more time tilting at windmills, the Phillies will — or, at least, should — turn their full attention to 2013. Yes, that means trading Shane Victorino and Juan Pierre and Joe Blanton and any other free-agent-to-be who might attract a fringe prospect or some salary relief. It means calling up Domonic Brown and giving him a full 2 months at the major league level.
But the fate of 2013 could very well rest on the shoulders — or, rather, shoulder — of Halladay. If he still can be the pitcher he was in 2010 and 2011, the Phillies will have plenty of reason to think that they are contenders. If he can be the pitcher he was on Sunday, making the most out of whatever his body gives him, they still will have one of the better rotations in the National League. If he is anything less than that, then get used to what you have watched for the previous 4 months.
For now, here lies 2012.