THEY SAY the definition of insanity is making the same mistake over and over and expecting different results, but it also sounds a lot like mediocrity.
One month ago, the Phillies split a four-game home-and-home series with the Red Sox, which could have been construed as a sign of positive things to come. They proceeded to lose two out of three to the woeful Brewers. They followed those two losses with five straight wins, which once again prompted talk of momentum.
They proceeded to lose five straight. And on it went.
Win two of three against the Nationals, lose two of three to the Mets. Score 16 runs against the Dodgers in one game, score four in the next two combined.
The word "frustrating" gets thrown around a lot with regard to this Phillies team. But the Phils are only frustrating if you allow their occasional bright spots to drown out the reality of what they are, which is a mediocre team with too many holes to sustain success.
They are a team that is just as likely to score no runs against Stephen Fife as they are to score four runs against Zack Greinke.
Give a team like that a lockdown bullpen and it might be able to grind out 90 wins. A league-average bullpen, and it might be looking at 83. But give that team the worst bullpen in the National League and you get what you have right now: a 39-44 record, a 9 1/2-game deficit in the division, and no reason to think that the second half of the season will play out any differently than the first.
To fans who have the awareness to understand who these Phillies are, this recently completed road trip should be viewed as a good thing. After a 3-4 showing against the Padres and the Dodgers - two teams that harbor postseason aspirations of their own - there is no reason for the front office to pursue a strategy that does not maximize their chances at contending in 2014 and beyond.
That means having some difficult conversations with Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon, both of whom possess some degree of veto power over a potential trade. That conversation will be much more difficult with Utley, a founding member of the greatest era of baseball in Phillies history. But it is one that grows in importance with every home run that the second baseman hits.
The player we have witnessed over the last 10 games is one who can make a significant impact on a pennant chase: four home runs and three doubles in 47 plate appearances at a premium position. That makes him worth more to the organization's future than he is to its present. Two years ago, the Giants gave up heralded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler for 2 months of Carlos Beltran. It is hard to imagine the Phillies landing that kind of return, but Utley is certainly giving the front office plenty of ammunition to bring to the bargaining table.
When you really think about it, trading Utley would allow for a more ceremonious exit than would be allowed if he played out the final 2 months of his contract and became a free agent. It would allow the Phillies to acknowledge him in a way that will be impossible if he ends up signing with any of a number of teams that make more sense for him personally than the one that drafted him out of UCLA 13 years ago.
Maybe he ends up coming back. But a handicapper would likely favor an American League team that allows him the opportunity to DH as his body continues to age, perhaps one that plays its home games closer to his offseason home in San Francisco.
In that scenario, the Phillies would not have the chance to give their fans closure, at least not the type that would occur if they announced the trade and pulled him from the game on July 30 or 31, allowing the crowd at Citizens Bank Park to pay him the respect he is due.
The team that is in town for those two games happens to be the Giants, one of the plethora of contenders that could be in the market for a power-hitting second baseman. Wouldn't that be a hell of a scene?
The only thing we know for sure is that the Phillies are who we thought they were. And while that may be tough to accept, it is infinitely easier than the situation that will occur if they do not accept it themselves.