The Philadelphia Phillies will resume their push for a playoff spot when they return from the All Star break tonight.

Philadelphia begins a three-city, 10-game road trip in New York against the Mets. The Phillies also will face the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers on the trip.

Today marks the traditional start off the second half of the baseball season. The Phillies (48-48) trail the first-place Atlanta Braves by 6½ games in the National League East. Philadelphia is 5½ games out of the league's second wild card spot.

Here are five questions the Phillies will confront in the second half:

Can they continue their second-half success under manager Charlie Manuel? Since 2005, the Phillies have played an average of 16 games over .500 after the All Star break. A similar surge is necessary this year if the Phillies are to make the postseason.

What's Manuel's secret?

"If you come to the ballpark every day with 25 guys," Manuel said, "and the biggest part of them want to play, and they really are concentrating on playing the game the right way and enjoying it and getting after it, you'd be surprised at what you can do."

Will the Phillies be buyers or sellers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline?: General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says right now the Phillies are buyers. Philadelphia is looking for help in the bullpen and for a center fielder since Ben Revere is out six to eight weeks after undergoing ankle surgery. The bullpen has an ERA of 4.39 - the worst in the league.

"We're in the buy mode," Amaro said.

Manuel said he believes the Phillies need some help if they are to make the postseason.

"If we are going to be a contender and we're going to win our division or a wild card," Manuel said, "we still need some help."

Don't look for Amaro to trade any prospects that are close to making the major leagues, however.

"There are some young players we might be able to move," Amaro said, "but we can't afford to move guys who we think are close to (the majors) or will be here shortly."

What will be the key to the Phillies' second-half success? Amaro says it's pitching. The Phillies will rely on a starting rotation led by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. "We have to pitch," Amaro said. "If we don't pitch, we don't have a shot at it."

Which Phillies hitter is the one to watch in the second half? Darin Ruf has stepped in at first base for Ryan Howard, who is out until at least late August after undergoing knee surgery this month.

Ruf must compensate for Howard's absence. Ruf also can supply some needed right-handed power.

The 26-year-old Ruf is batting .321 with two home runs and three RBIs since being promoted from Triple-A on July 14.

Ruf has the confidence of Phillies teammates who played with him in the minor leagues.

"I've been with him since A-ball, and he's always hit everywhere he's gone," rookie starting pitcher Jonathan Pettibone said. "He might have big shoes to fill replacing Howard. He might not put up huge numbers, but he's going to hold his own, play a solid first base. It's not a bad feeling at all losing Howard. It's unfortunate, but we have Ruf there to fill in."

Will these final 66 games mark the end of Chase Utley's time in Philadelphia? Utley's future will probably be debated daily as the season winds down. The 34-year-old second baseman, who is the symbol of the franchise, will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Will the Phillies re-sign him? Will Utley demand a contract that is either too expensive or too long?

Amaro said he thinks of Utley as a Phillie for life. Utley said he's never envisioned himself wearing another team's uniform.

But both men acknowledged that the future can be uncertain.

Contact Michael McGarry:

609-272-7185