Improving The Phillies: Step 1 - The Lineup

There are a number of opinions on how to make the Phillies better in the second half. After all, they're just 5 1/2 games out in the wild card race or one game more than the Astros were at the same point last season. Here's a step-by-step way to make the Phillies better now and in the future.

Simple lineup changes can do a lot to make a team better. The Phillies have some options and they should definitely be considered as the second half gets underway.

The first step to improving the Phillies involves Charlie Manuel calling a team meeting prior to Friday night's game in San Francisco. The meeting agenda goes something like this; First, Manuel needs to stress that he is in charge. Media reports of his demise are just that - media reports - and aren't coming from the Phillies themselves. So, the "testing" that's been talked about in the media stops and it stops now. He needs to stress that he's a nice guy who always has and always will have the player's backs, but they better have his back, too.

Second, there are changes coming and the first change is in the lineup. While we all know that Bobby Abreu isn't enamored with the idea of hitting leadoff, that's where he's hitting. He's got the best on-base percentage on the team and his power numbers are down, so welcome to leadoff land, Bobby. Batting second is Jimmy Rollins, who is also given a new mandate. You will be given the take sign until the pitcher throws you a strike. That does a couple things; it gives Abreu a chance to steal, makes the pitcher throw more pitches and will ultimately make Rollins a better hitter. No more swinging at the first pitch. Hitting third is Chase Utley, followed by Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand. By the way, Rowand should also be given the 'Rollins Mandate' about being more patient at the plate. Then, comes David Bell and Mike Lieberthal, who are informed that they will be on the bench at least twice a week with Abraham Nunez taking over at third and Carlos Ruiz behind the plate on those days. Ruiz will catch Jon Lieber and Cory Lidle.

Manuel's meeting should then conclude with a challenge to players to turn things around. He needs to point out that several of them are at the center of trade rumors and if they like playing in Philadelphia at all, they need to step it up. He also needs to point out that nobody is above being benched and that includes being yanked in the middle of the game for not running out a ground ball or not hustling on defense.

Once the game begins, Manuel has to be more aggressive. He has to encourage his baserunners to steal more bases and put pressure on opposing defenses. If Abreu and Rollins are on first and second, they need to use their speed to be on second and third. He also has to stress the opposite - patience. Manuel, who is well respected as a hitting guru, needs to stress the value of taking pitches, especially when opposing pitchers appear willing to bury themselves with wildness. Sure, some pitchers throw strikes and little else and you have to be hacking and it's perfectly fine to look for the occasional first pitch fastball to groove, but if it's not in the perfect spot, let it go by.

The Phillies are not a bad team, they're just a team playing badly. There are glimpses of brilliance here and there, but those glimpses need to become the norm and not rare sightings. The turn around begins with Charlie Manuel, a spirited clubhouse meeting and some tweaking to the lineup and it should begin immediately.

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