PHILADELPHIA -- There are plenty of reasons to think the Phillies will be sellers before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
But if you are a glass-is-half-full Phillies fan, there is at least one reason for hope: Since the Braves started the season 12-1 they have played just one game better than the Phils. Simply put, they have not taken advantage of a gift-wrapped opportunity to run away with the National League East. If the wildly inconsistent Phillies can somehow get on a roll, they have a chance to make up ground and maybe make things interesting with 20 percent of their remaining games (15 of 75) against Atlanta.
"It means we have to play like hell," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Phillies started the right way Friday night with a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. declined to call this 10-game homestand "make or break" before the game, but he said it was "big" and indicated changes could be made with a poor finish before the All-Star break.
"We just want to win for the sake of winning," Michael Young said. "There are a lot of guys here who've played well into October and we recognize there's nothing like winning. And if you look at the crowd tonight, there's nothing like winning in Philly. We're all competitors and we want to win because of that. Having said that, we know the way things work. We recognize the end of the first half is coming. We want to start making a move."
Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee pitched well through six before struggling in the seventh, but he should be in position to make the NL All-Star team. He allowed eight hits, four runs and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings to improve to 10-2 with a 2.73 ERA.
He gets one more start before the break. He understands the importance of the homestand.
"You're playing the Braves, the Nationals, the teams that are ahead of you and they're that much more important because you can gain ground there," he said. "We just have to win games, and what the front office does and the decisions they have to make are up to them. It's their job to do that and it's our job to win games."
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the first against lefty Paul Maholm and never looked back. Chase Utley doubled, advanced to third on Jimmy Rollins' infield single and scored on Freddie Freeman's throwing error. Humberto Quintero hit a two-run home run to right field in the second for a 3-0 lead. A Braves fan interfered with the ball, but umpires used instant replay and ruled the ball had cleared the fence.
"I [have] faced this guy a long time," Quintero said. "He always throws me away, so I tried to hit it the other way real good. When I touched first base, I knew the fan grabbed it and it was a homer."
Ryan Howard, whose .503 OPS against left-handers entering the night ranked 194th out of 202 qualifying players this season, crushed a solo homer against Maholm into the Phillies bullpen in right-center field to take a 4-0 lead in the third.
It was Howard's 11th homer and 43rd RBI of the season.
Quintero's double to right-center field scored Delmon Young from first to make it 5-0 in the sixth.
Lee struggled mightily in the seventh. He hit Freeman with a pitch and allowed a single to Chris Johnson before Dan Uggla hit a three-run homer to make it a two-run game. Lee later allowed a one-out double to Brian McCann, who scored on a sacrifice fly to make it 5-4.
"He got really hot and he was spent," Manuel said of Lee.
"It was hot, but I felt like I could continue to pitch," Lee said.
The Braves remained impressed.
"Cliff pretty much made one mistake," Uggla said.
J.C. Ramirez, Antonio Bastardo and Jonathan Papelbon pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to preserve the victory.
The Braves are 37-36 since their scintillating start. The Nationals are 36-36, while the Phillies are 36-37. Nobody in the NL East is playing particularly well at the moment. That does not mean the Braves won't get hot again. It just means the Phillies have a chance. They play the first seven games of their homestand against the Braves and Nationals.
The opportunity is there if they want it.
"Right now, I have a good feeling about our team," Manuel said. "If we keep scoring runs and our pitching holds up, who knows what you can do? You don't give up. You stay there and grind it out."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.