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Updated: August 5, 2010, 12:08 AM ET

Phillies trying to fight back the pain

By Chris Singleton
ESPN
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Predicting the final standings in the NL East right now is a little like solving a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces. The Braves hold a two-game lead over the injury-riddled Phillies.

But if Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel can get some of his key players back by mid-August, you can expect Philadelphia to finish first. We know he lost a key piece Tuesday when first baseman Ryan Howard was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of moderately sprained left ankle. Atlanta made a great move by acquiring outfielder Rick Ankiel and proven relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth from Kansas City, but you have to remember all the things working in Philadelphia's favor. I like the way the Braves are playing, but this division race is far from over.

[+] EnlargeRyan Howard
Greg Fiume/Getty ImagesThe Phillies' disabled list got a little more crowded with the addition of Ryan Howard.

Consider that when half your roster is injured, which is what faces the Phillies these days, you can play games as though you have nothing to lose. Howard is now the 15th Phillie to head to the DL this season, and he joins Chase Utley and Shane Victorino there now. Phillies fans have the luxury of the "things can only go up from here" mentality right now.

The Phillies have the advantage at the top of the rotation; I'd take Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels over Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens any day. When it comes to bullpens, Atlanta certainly has the edge. The group owns the second-best ERA in the NL, while the Phillies stand 10th. But while throwing him can be sometimes like flipping a coin, don't count out Philly closer Brad Lidge. He found his way toward the end of the season last year. He's been through the ups and downs of a season enough to be able to navigate things and, ultimately, he'll settle in. Plus, he's been on the DL twice himself this season, and has pitched in only 25 games.

And let's not forget Philadelphia is a "second-half team." Just as some teams manage to make a name for themselves by falling off in crunch time (see: Mets), the Phillies are known for finding a way to turn things around. Tracking down first-place teams seems to be their specialty, and increasingly more likely when Raul Ibanez and Jayson Werth are hitting. Both are coming off solid months -- Ibanez hit .337 in July; Werth was at .305.

Of course all of this seems speculative without knowing if Howard's ankle will respond quickly enough for him to return as soon as his 15 days on the DL are up. If he's out longer, the Phillies are in trouble and it'll be next to impossible for them to overcome the Braves. If he's out for no more than two weeks, and the timetables are accurate for the returns of Chase Utley and Shane Victorino, I think the Phillies will be in good enough shape to knock off Atlanta.

Philly is a sleeping, injured giant. When the Phillies start to stir, watch out.

Chris Singleton is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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