IF NOTHING ELSE, the remainder of 2012 can determine the foundation of the Phillies franchise.
Will they retain Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins? All but Hamels have limited control of their destinies immediately. Hamels, of course, is a free agent with total control in a few months.
If the Phillies play for anything, they will play for self-preservation most of all.
They will play for respect, perhaps, but understand: After five straight National League East titles, a 2008 World Series championship and 102 wins last season, this club's players firmly believe their recent postseason failures to the Giants and Cardinals were flukes.
They remain convinced that adding Halladay in 2010 and Lee in 2011 made them the NL's best team.
And that injuries to Utley, Howard, Halladay and some bullpen principals brought them to 37 wins, 13 games under .500, 14 games out of first place and 10 games behind the wild-card slots.
They think they are solid.
They are wrong, of course.
They are a sloppy team. They are undisciplined at the plate. They are woeful defensively in the outfield. They were never better than hopeful of competence in the bullpen, at best.
Where is Ty Pennington? They need an extreme makeover.
Fifty wins changes that.
Fifty wins in their last 75 games gets them to 87 wins, which puts them in the conversation come September.
It can be done.
It has been done.
The A's won 58 games after the break in 2001.
The Giants won 45 in 2010, and they couldn't score in Amsterdam.
Both of those teams leaned on three stud starters. The Phillies happen to have three stud starters.
They have to pitch like studs to make this happen.
The Phillies need Halladay and Lee to combine for 18 wins.
Nothing from Lee about poor run support or bad defense. Just pitch. One win in 14 starts for a $21.5 million pitcher is ridiculous.
Nothing from Halladay about that aching shoulder.
Just wins: 1-0 or 10-8, but wins. That's what aces do: win ugly, win hurt.
The Phillies also need seven or eight more wins from Hamels, assuming they do not trade him. Hamels has given them 10 wins already. He's in a contract year. It's always nice to contend for the league wins total when negotiating a $125 million deal.
Neither Utley nor Howard has to worry about his next deal. They just need to live up to their current ones.
Given their playing schedules — 2 days on, 1 day off — they won't have as many chances to carry the team. But they have to do it whenever they get the chance.
That means hitting .280, combined.
That means 30 homers, combined.
A regular playing schedule and they would need to hit .290 with 35 homers. But decreased playing time, and irregular playing time, will keep them from finding the groove that translates into a slightly higher average and more home runs.
But .280 and 30 means a lot more fastballs for Hunter Pence, Carlos Ruiz, Placido Polanco and John Mayberry Jr.
If Polanco and Mayberry ever see another pitch. Suddenly, they have become bench players.
Really, the defensive dropoff when Mayberry and Polanco do not play becomes a serious concern with a gimpy Howard and a unpredictable Pence on the field.
The Phillies need some production from one of them; preferably Mayberry, who has a career ahead of him, unlike Polanco, whose career is behind him.
Mayberry hitting .280 down the stretch provides the sort of X-factor every comeback team needs.
Rollins hitting .300 down the stretch adds to the legend.
A .281 hitter in the second half of seasons, Rollins, like Howard, consistently surges when other players fade. Unlike Howard, Rollins played the first half of this season. So, Rollins might predictably charge over the next 2 1/2 months.
Howard might not. Which will make Rollins even more important.
The aforementioned needs have been realistic, based on past performances, based on proven talent.
The rest are more arbitrary.
Such as …
Vance Worley winning eight times.
It can be done. It has been done.
Worley went 9-0 over 14 starts from mid-June to early September last season. The league adjusted to him. He has to adjust right back.
Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick, whichever does not become a bullpen piece when Halladay returns next week, has to go .500. Kendrick is the better bet.
Blanton has allowed five or more earned runs in seven of his last 10 outings.
Kendrick has done that four times.
That means Kendrick gave the Phillies three more chances to win.
Blanton is a real arm in the bullpen, too. Kendrick is garbage innings. Blanton might even end up near the back of the 'pen.
They might have to have him there.
Without some sort of upgrade, they need Antonio Bastardo and Jake Diekman being near-perfect.
Bastardo has not controlled his fastball consistently in almost a year.
Diekman has a 1.72 earned run average in his last 17 major league outings. Then again, Diekman has only 19 major league outings.
So, yes, Diekman continuing his run is unlikely. Bastardo rebounding this season, also unlikely.
Almost all of the things that make the Phillies a contender in September are unlikely.
But not impossible.