Baseball is back. After four days off and a failed bid to land Manny Machado, the Phillies will start the season's second half tonight at Citizens Bank Park. The disappointment felt when Baltimore traded Machado to the Dodgers might make it hard to believe, but the Phillies are still in first place. They're playing their best baseball in seven years, and there are just 10 weeks left to decide if this team can reach the playoffs. The second half should be fun. It starts tonight.
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Perhaps you're headed to the shore this weekend and might want to try your luck at the new sports betting parlors. Or maybe you're going to meet Joey Bagadonuts and lay down some action. However you do it, you might be surprised to see the amount of respect the Phillies have garnered from oddsmakers.
The first-place Phillies, according to odds released Thursday by online sportsbook Bovada, are the favorites to win the National League East and have the third-best odds to win the NL and the seventh-best odds to win the World Series. The Phillies began the season with 75-1 odds of winning the World Series. They start the second half with 15-1 odds. They are 8-5 favorites to win the division and have 6-1 odds to win the pennant. It's been quite the jump — no team in baseball has made a bigger jump than that.
An increase in odds certainly does not guarantee success for the Phillies, but it's a good indication that their surprising first half is being respected by outside forecasters. The Phillies will have to win a little bit more than half their remaining games to put themselves in the driver's seat for a division championship. And if they do win the East, you might be driving back to AC with a winner in your hand.
Frank Fitzpatrick covered the 1993 Phillies for the Inquirer, and he wrote a terrific retrospective on that team. He also wrote an accompanying, behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to cover that team. For example, Fitzy drove two members of the team to the ballpark on opening day. It's a fun and interesting look back. You'll enjoy it.
The Phillies are in first place at the break, but getting there wasn't easy. They faced some tough moments in the first half and seemed to bounce back from each one. This team looks a lot different from the one that fell apart last year when it first faced adversity. "We have a lot more fight than we did last year," catcher Andrew Knapp said.
The Baseball Hall of Fame will hold its induction ceremony later this month, and Mike Sielski wrote a column to suggest two changes for how the football and baseball Halls induct their members. Perhaps there's a way for Extra Innings to be enshrined in Cooperstown.
Today: Jake Arrieta opens second half vs. Padres, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta faces the Padres, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez closes out Padres series, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Chase Utley's Philly farewell begins, 7:05 p.m.
Jake Arrieta will make his first start of the second half tonight, which could be the start of a nice stretch if his season finishes the way it did last year. Arrieta, after a rough first half in 2017 with the Cubs, compiled a 2.28 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning over his final 12 starts. He finished this year's first half with two seven-inning starts, which the Phillies hope show that he is gearing up for the type of run he had last year.
Question: Are you hearing anything about Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays? Seems he would be a good fit (if he's healthy) and perhaps [J.A.] Happ could be a part of the deal, thus addressing two problem areas with one trade. – Jeff P., email
Answer: Trading for Donaldson will be tough, as you mentioned his health. He's been out since late May with a calf injury and only recently began running again. The Phillies would like to see him play some games before going after him. And even then, how much of an upgrade is Donaldson? He averaged 37 homers over the past three seasons but had just five with a .757 OPS in 36 games before being injured. Donaldson is 32. Time might have caught up with him. I think I'd pass, unless the Phillies are able to give up next to nothing for taking his contract.