Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 6/18/12
Philadelphia_phillies_charlie_0298

For Charlie Manuel, Christmas Day might as well be July 29 instead of December 25. In each of the last three years, Manuel has seen general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. making a pre-trade deadline deal on that date.

In 2009, Amaro reeled in Cliff Lee. In 2010, it was Roy Oswalt who arrived. In 2011, Hunter Pence followed Oswalt's path from Houston to Philadelphia.

But as the Phillies enter a critical 19-game stretch before the All-Star break, it's worth wondering if Manuel should be expecting something very different from baseball's equivalent of Christmas Day. From the standpoint of a major league manager, it is never better to give than it is to receive.

The Phillies, however, have been in last place in the National League East for all but one day since May 5. They enter play Tuesday a season-high six games under .500.

"I think what you see, we're in a stretch here where we have to come out and we have to start playing better and winning some games," Manuel said. "I think that will dictate the things we do. If we get much further behind -- we can't afford to get much further behind, we're already behind -- those are decisions that have to be made, depending on where they see us at."

But where does Manuel see his team?

The Phillies have lost 12 of their last 15 games. They haven't been this many games under .500 this late into a season since July 31, 2006 -- a day after they traded Bobby Abreu to the New York Yankees. It was the last time they were sellers instead of buyers at the trade deadline.

"We've been in last place since, what, the first day of the season or right after that?" Manuel said. "We haven't climbed any. We've been steadily falling behind. ... I've seen us make climbs. But we have to get healthy. We have to get everybody back."

After winning five straight division titles, the Phillies find themselves in last place because of the talent they have on the disabled list instead of on the field. Both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley have missed the first 10 weeks of the season with injuries, and Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee also have made trips to the DL.

While Utley could rejoin the Phils within the next few weeks, Halladay and Howard aren't expected back until after the All-Star break. But all three players are expected back, and if they are healthy and productive in the season's final two months ...

"They play a big part in what they've done here a long time," veteran Jim Thome said of Howard and Utley in particular. "By no means is that an excuse, but they have played a big part. You take any 3 and 4 hitter out of your lineup, there is going to be an adjustment. Let's face it. I think that's the positive way of looking at what's in store."

But can the Phillies stay afloat until their injured All-Stars return? Manuel can't even answer that question with the way his team has been playing this month. No teams has fewer wins this month than the Phillies, who have just four.

Under Manuel, the Phils have been a second-half team, however. They have averaged 45 wins after the All-Star break in the last five seasons; they've been at least 14 games over .500 after the break in each of those years. Last season, the Phils were 19 games over .500 after the break.

"Somewhere along the line we've got to win some games," Manuel said. "I mean, you can say whatever you want to -- second-half team -- somewhere along the line if we keep losing, if we win something we'll (have to) set a record in the second half."

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