The Phillies started the second half an unfathomable 33 games under .500. There are plenty of questions as the team enters the back end of a most difficult season?

What will the beginning of the Aaron Nola era yield? 

It’s been a quarter century since the Phillies selected a pitcher, who made his debut a year after being tabbed in the draft (the last was Pat Combs). Nola makes his overdue debut Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays. The polished LSU product has been exceptional throughout his 13-month stay in the minors. His control is nearly Cliff Lee-esque. Will Nola, who was 10-4 with a 2.39 ERA in 18 starts in AA and AAA, attack the strike zone like he has throughout his career in the majors? Is Nola a two or a mid-rotation starter?

Will Maikel Franco continue to flourish?

The promising third baseman has cooled off since his epic assault of the New York Yankees last month. But Franco has been rock solid. His plate discipline has been better than anticipated. Franco makes contact with 80 percent of his swings and his defense is as good as advertised.

What will happen to Cole Hamels?

The mystery will end by July 31. Either King Cole will be dealt for a package of prospects or he’ll continue to toil for the worst team in baseball. This is obviously a massive issue for the Phillies. If the Phillies make the right deal, they will be much closer to contention in say, 2018. The Phillies can’t settle for a less than stellar package ala the Cliff Lee deal. Metro says Andy MacPhail and co. play it conservative and hold on to the second best lefthander in club history unless they get the prospects they desire.

Is Cesar Hernandez for real?

Hernandez had a good June but it’s a small sample set. There are still questions about whether he is a starting major league second baseman or a utility guy. The only way to answer that question is to start Hernandez, who has struggled of late, at second the rest of the way, which is apparently the plan.

How to deal with Chase Utley?

It’ll be interesting to see how the Phillies deal with the franchise icon once he’s back from his ankle injury. Utley was at the center of the greatest run in Phillies history. Expect Utley to score spot starts at second and first base. It’s the beginning of the end of the Utley era.

What will Jonathan Papelbon say when he’s still in a Phillies uniform August 1? 

The Phillies want to deal Pap but if it was so easy it would have been accomplished at this time last year. Papelbon, the Phillies lone All-Star, has been a very effective closer. But the combination of his salary and personality hurt any potential deals.

Can Brown do anything for the Phillies?

If Domonic Brown continues to struggle at the plate, this has to be the swan song for the Phillies greatest enigma. He has all the physical tools but it just hasn’t worked.

History beckons. The franchise record for losses is an attainable 111. This team has fallen incredibly far in such a short period of time. Just four seasons ago, the Phillies lost 60 games. The current club dropped 62 games by the All-Star break.  Can it get better? Perhaps the beginning of the Nola era will offer a glimmer of hope. It’s difficult to imagine it could get any worse for a team that somehow lost 39 of its last 52 games going into the break.