Phillies are in an unfamiliar position

There's an old joke that goes like this; "The Phillies are the strongest team in the division. They're on the bottom holding up all the other teams." They're certainly the topic of a lot of jokes and it's unfamiliar territory for them.

They have long been viewed as the elite team in the National League East - the one who rolled into July with the ability to get anything they needed to make that big push toward the finish line and another postseason.

But this July is very different for the Phillies. And after sinking into the All-Star break with a 37-50 record after a 4-3 loss to the Braves Sunday, Philadelphia stood 14 games back of division-leading Washington and 10 games behind the final wild-card spot in the National League.

"We just don't play good enough to win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "Today is an example of most of our games. We get to a point where something happens and we don't execute and we make mistakes and we end up losing the game. We don't play good enough to win. We don't beat people. We've had a real tough first half. I don't really have to talk much about it. What has happened has happened. We gotta keep going."

Still, the second half will bring a great deal of uncertainty to the Phillies lineup. Even with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back - and Roy Halladay figuring to return in the not-too-distant future - there figures to be some changes among the ranks of the Philadelphia clubhouse.

The person who could draw most of the attention will be Phils left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels, who will likely be the biggest free agent on the market this winter. Negotiations between the Phillies and Hamels - 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA - have somewhat stalled in recent days. Still, Phillies president David Montgomery said on Sunday that he believes the club won't trade Hamels just yet, instead hoping to sign him to a long-term extension.

"We have said that repeatedly. Our inclination is that when you think about 'today and tomorrow' as the 'present and the future,' the one thing that Cole represents is that he is a 'bridge' player," Montgomery said. "He is important today and he can be very important to us because of his age and his ability for a number of years. That, to us, makes sense. That is a player you want to chase."

Others that figure to be on the market include center fielder Shane Victorino, third baseman Placido Polanco and righty Joe Blanton, all of whom would likely be used to try to bring in bullpen pieces for a struggling Philadelphia unit.

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