Can Phillies add to strong first-half finish?

July 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Nobody played more road games in the first half of the 2023 season than the Phillies, with 51.

It means more home games in the second half, which begins Friday with a three-game series against the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. After Aug. 3, the Phillies will play 33 of their final 53 games at home.

The Phillies open the second half a half-game behind for the third NL Wild Card, but with the second-best record in baseball since June 2.

“We’re really good,” said last weekend in Miami. “I don’t think we’re done getting anybody. I know that [Dave] Dombrowski and John [Middleton] are going to look for everything for us to be better. If that’s bullpen, if that’s pitching, if that’s hitting or offense -- whatever it is. I know they’re going to get what we need. … After the break, we have some good teams we’re going to play. We just have to keep going. Keep building on each day.”

What we learned in the first half: Wait until Bryce and Trea get going

The Phillies are 23-9 (.719) since June 2, but Harper has not homered since May 25. It is the longest homerless drought of his career at 160 plate appearances. has struggled, although recently he has shown signs of life. If Harper and Turner get going in the second half, the offense could take off.

Likely Trade Deadline strategy: Corner outfielder

Dombrowski said the Phillies expect to know if Harper can play first base before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. If Harper plays there, Kyle Schwarber is expected to move from left field to DH. If that happens, the Phillies could look for a corner outfielder, preferably somebody who can hit for power and play at least average defense.

It would make an already deep lineup even deeper. If Harper can’t play first, the Phillies could try to upgrade the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They might do that anyway.

Key player: Aaron Nola

Nola is 8-6 with a 4.39 ERA at the break. He is second in baseball in innings pitched (119), which still holds tremendous value. His 3.73 expected ERA suggests he has been hurt by bad luck and poor defense. But there is no question Nola has not been as effective as he has in the past.

He has allowed 21 home runs, which is one more than he allowed last season. His strikeout rate (24.9) is its lowest since his rookie season in 2015 (21.4). His walk rate (6.2) is his highest since 2020 (8.0). A better Nola would go a long way in the second half.

Prospect to watch: Noah Song

The Phillies hoped top prospect Andrew Painter would join the rotation, but he is experiencing soreness in his right elbow. He is hardly a sure thing at this point. Song has a chance to make the team, albeit as a long man. The Phillies selected Song in the Rule 5 Draft, despite not pitching competitively since 2019 because of his commitment to the Navy.

Song, who is on a rehab assignment, must be promoted by July 28, or he must be placed on waivers. If the Phillies think he can get batters out in limited, low-leverage situations, he could stick.