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July 15, 2016

Heading into season's second half, Phillies still focused on evaluating young roster

After an All-Star break that Pete Mackanin said he used to get away, the Phillies manager was asked what his ballclub is trying to accomplish in the season’s final 72 games.

In the word of Jim Mora, “PLAYOFFS?!”

“What are we out of the wild card?” Mackanin said. “Six games? Why not? Let's set our sights high. I mean, wild card? I mean, might as well.”

The Phillies do indeed sit six games behind the Florida Marlins and the New York Mets, tonight’s opponent, for the National League’s second wild-card spot. Currently on a 76-win pace, they have probably exceeded preseason expectations slightly from a win-loss standpoint. At the very least, they’ve met them.

Realistically, the Phillies front office and Mackanin know the team, full of young players looking to prove themselves, is a few years away from seriously contending. The main purpose of this season is to evaluate the youth on the roster so that the team has a better feel of what they have going into 2017.

That goal won’t change in the second half. This isn’t “playoffs or bust,” but winning and development don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.

“That's why I said, I am setting my sights high,” Mackanin said. “Because we still have to let guys play and find out about them. But we might as well play for something, have the target. But I still have to play guys and see what they are going to do.”

Mackanin mentioned Aaron Altherr, who should return sometime in the second half of the season, as someone he wants to give playing time to. Altherr will join an outfield that already features Odubel Herrera and three players that have been in the regular lineup at different points of the season.

Some of the reason for optimism around the team is that the Phillies have been playing good baseball the last few weeks. Dating back to June 25th, they’re 12-5 and a struggling offense has found its groove by showcasing some power. Charlie Manuel calls the summer months “hittin’ weather,” and so far it has been just that.

You could argue that the All-Star break came at a bad time for the Phils, and we’ll see if they cooled off over the four-day break.

“We were excited about the way we finished, playing really well the next few weeks” Cameron Rupp said. “Ready to come back, ready to play, and we want to get back out there and continue what we were doing.”

One thing is for sure: This year is decidedly different than last July, when the team entered the break 30-61 and had some legitimate veteran talent they were likely going to trade.

With a much younger roster and better vibes permeating through the clubhouse, Matt Klentak will likely be less busy than Ruben Amaro was at this time last year.

“There's no reason just to make a deal because we still have a bunch of guys in the minor leagues that we're high on,” Mackanin said. “It's different in that respect. You kind of knew that something was going to happen last year. This year, I don't know.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann