Four straight series wins to start July has restored some swagger to the Phillies. Is it enough to make a difference? (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

There is some semblance of optimism in Philadelphia on the baseball diamond. It’s mainly due to things the Phillies have not done, which isn’t surprising considering this is a franchise known for bad decisions. The Braves and Nationals have lost their best outfielders to injuries. The Marlins haven’t been able to turn their strong run differential into a winning record. The Mets are good but haven’t run away with the division. That leaves the Phillies right in the thick of the only divisional race in the Majors they’d have a prayer of winning right now. Are they still deeply flawed? Of course. But so is their main competition. One of those teams is going to overcome their handicaps and reach the postseason. And despite entering the All-Star break 3.5 games behind New York, the Phillies apparently have the best odds to do so.

The respectable percentages won’t be powerful enough to end a decade of darkness at Citizens Bank Park. For at least a week, it seemed like their offense might be. They scored 38 runs in a four-game series victory over the tail spinning Cubs. Brad Miller became the first Phillie since Jayson Werth in 2008 to homer three times in one game. It was unabashed fun for a Phillies team that has been frustrating even when they win for most of the year.

Case in point: their last game before the All-Star break. The Phillies found themselves short-handed with four players on the COVID list at a time when vaccines are widely available. No one special was lost; just the starting third baseman starting to turn the corner, the strong starter scheduled to pitch that day, and one of the most reliable bullpen options as of late. They danced through the raindrops en route to a 5-4 win; doing so clinched their third straight series victory to start July. Yet, their self-inflicted wounds were a bigger story.

Philadelphia is in a difficult situation where they would like to buy, but doing so may not make much sense. The Phillies’ bullpen is their most glaring weakness, but it’s so far it shambles that one reliever won’t be able to fix it. Success from Matt Moore, Vince Velasquez, Spencer Howard, and others has been so fleeting that bringing in a fourth rotation arm wouldn’t totally eliminate the unit’s inconsistency. The club would like to believe Odúbel Herrera can get back to May form when he returns from injury; Herrera had a dismal June spent largely in the lead-off role.

Fans are desperate for a winner, and the big moves to acquire Cliff Lee (2009), Roy Oswalt (2010), and Hunter Pence (2011) at previous deadlines are some of the last memories they have of contending. And they add more pressure on management to improve the short-term status. But even if the Phillies think they can fix one or more of these issues via trade, there is little for the organization to give it up in exchange for short-term help. Years of poor player development have left the Phillies not just with a flawed roster but a barren prospect pool. Bryson Stott, Mick Abel, and recent 1st round pick Andrew Painter are almost certainly not on the table. Beyond them, there aren’t too many players with significant trade value.

That makes the idea of selling pending free agents like Andrew McCutchen, Velasquez, Archie Bradley, and others more intriguing; it would make buying next July much more acceptable. Moving bigger names like Rhys Hoskins or/and Zach Eflin will probably have to wait until at least the offseason. But there’s no guarantee the Phillies will be in as good a position to win as they are now. You’d like to think they will be considering the high-end talent that shone so brightly on Tuesday night, but then again, you’d think the last two seasons would’ve played out differently. Although, if they keep up their impressive July performance, winning four straight series for the first time in three years, the word selling will happily disappear from every Philadelphian’s vocabulary.

It’s not gonna happen… but if he’s ever on the market, this guy would A) help the Phillies just a smidge and B) literally cost every prospect in the organization to acquire.

It’s a difficult tightrope of pain versus gain to balance for both the short and long term. Phillies fans have known all too much of the former over the last nine seasons. But it’s not for lack of the latter; in fact, some of the suffering has been a result of trying to win too soon. Dave Dombrowski’s track record suggests the Phillies will make at least one addition before the July 30 trade deadline. But it can’t be another major risk for a team that has been burnt by going for it when the timing wasn’t right. For whatever intrigue this group has shown, and however vulnerable the rest of the division is, the stars just aren’t aligned for anything close to an era-defining move. Though that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for external improvement.

Follow Us on Twitter! Also, check out the Vendetta Shop and our partnerships with SimBull (learn more here) and the Peri Goodman’s Store for custom stickers!