CLEVELAND – The Phillies come back from the All-Star break on Friday and face the most important week of their season.
Three games against the Washington Nationals, the team that has erased a 10-game deficit and overtaken the Phils for second place in the National League East standings, followed by four games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, owners of baseball's best record.
If the Phils play well in those seven games, the front office could roll up its sleeves and get the team some help before the trade deadline.
If the Phils continue their nearly six-week flop, the front office could decide it's not worth giving up young talent for a long-shot playoff run this season.
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J.T. Realmuto believes the front office will be busy.
"I would be shocked if our front office didn't believe we could make a run," he said at All-Star Game festivities Monday. "I feel like with the team we have, if our front office doesn't believe in us – I feel like the team they put together is pretty good with what we have right now even with the injuries and not performing as well as we should. I'm pretty sure they have confidence in us to go out and make a move and make us better."
But Realmuto acknowledged that Phillies players need to do their part in the coming week or so.
"Especially the three against Washington," he said. "Those are really important. We're neck and neck with them for second place. We definitely need to create some distance and also gain some ground with Atlanta, so that's a big series for us.
"The Dodgers coming in after what they did to us (three-game sweep) in L.A., obviously that will be an important series just to see how we match up with the best in the National League right now."
The Phillies entered June leading the NL East by 3 games. They have plummeted to third place at the All-Star break, 6 ½ games behind the first-place Braves.
Injuries and underperformance have hit the Phillies hard. The underperformance can be seen on the All-Star roster. Just one Phillie. Who saw that coming when the team left Clearwater and got off to that hot start?
"There are teams here with a lot worse record than we have who have two or three all-stars," Realmuto said. "Rhys (Hoskins) could be here, but first base is such a tough position. It doesn't always match up, but I feel there's definitely a lot of guys that can play better, including me, so there's a little correlation to how we're playing as a team.
"There are a lot of ways we can improve. We want to be at the top of the standings, there's no doubt about that, but we've got a lot of work to do."
The front office is currently weighing the possibility of adding starting pitching help, bullpen help and a hitter. Phillies officials have checked in with every team that might be a seller.
Starting pitching might be the Phils' biggest need. Even with Aaron Nola's recent hot streak, the staff has been plagued by inconsistency and now struggling Jake Arrieta has a bone spur in his elbow that could impact his second-half availability.
"I feel like we can fill our (starting pitching) question mark just by pitching better," Realmuto said. "We haven't pitched to our abilities. I feel like the guys we have can get the job done, we just haven't gotten there yet. We have a lot of work to do and we've got to get better on the mound, there's no doubt about that. Not just starting pitching. We've got to do better in the bullpen and we've got to do better in the lineup.
"Just as a whole, we've got to do better."
Realmuto, 28, arrives at his second straight All-Star Game riding a hot streak. The Phillies catcher is hitting .406 (13 for 32) with four doubles, six RBIs and seven runs scored in his last eight games. He played a big role in the Phillies' winning two of three against the Mets over the weekend.
Now, halfway through his first season with the Phils, he gets to represent the team in Cleveland.
"It's an honor," he said.
He wouldn't mind doing it again in future seasons. He has enjoyed his first season with the Phils and is open to signing a contract extension before he becomes a free agent after next season. Phillies management has made signing Realmuto a priority and though both sides like to keep things quite, you can bet they've explored extending the relationship.
"Everything I've experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn't be opposed to spending the rest of my career there," he said. "The timing doesn't really matter for me. I just show up and play baseball every day. If an extension comes, it comes, whether it be tomorrow or in the off-season or next July, the timing doesn't matter too much."
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