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Same as it Ever Was?

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The Phillies completed the unofficial first half of the season Sunday afternoon with an 8-4 win over Colorado. In addition to staving off the Big Round Number for a few more days at least, the victory squared the team's record at 44-44 going into the break, and regained the game on the Mets lost Saturday when New York won at Houston in 17 innings. The Phillies hit their four-day idle stretch trailing the Mets by 4.5 games, and the Braves by 2.5.

Have we been here before? You tell me:

2006: 40-47, 2nd place, 12 GB
2005: 45-44, 4th place, 7.5 GB
2004: 46-41, 1st place, 1 game lead
2003: 52-40, 2nd place, 8.5 GB
2002: 39-47, 5th place, 16 GB

Of course, we know that the last two Phillies teams dramatically improved after the break; the 2006 Phillies went 45-30, and the 2005 club 43-30. This year's model has a little more hitting--they've scored 36 more runs than last year's team at the break after playing one more game, and there's no longer any clear position or lineup spot that offers a consistently easy out for opponents--and a little less pitching. Through 87 games, the 2006 Phillies had allowed 456 runs; the current staff has surrendered 463, and it's not at all clear that they'll be getting the second-half mound reinforcements so key to last season's strong finish.

The bottom line is that this probably feels more similar to past years than it really is. The Phillies are still a frustrating blend of strengths and weaknesses, stars and scrubs. But with the exception of 2004, when they actually led the NL East before Larry Bowa completely lost his team, they're closer than they've been at the break in any of the last five years. I still don't think they merit a "future-is-now" strategy--unless Brett Myers and Tom Gordon both come back strong, and they add one or two pitchers from the outside, the staff isn't good enough. But the race is so close, and the weaknesses of the Mets and Braves so apparent, that the temptation will be tough to resist.