If baseball games
are won in the hearts and minds of fans, the Phillies have already lost.
Chase Utley would be the perfect metaphor for this team right now, as
they come limping a bit more literally into the regular season with a
pair of players who will return to the diamond, well, whenever they get
around to it.
We've all experienced together the doom and gloom side of being a
Philadelphia sports fan. Unstoppable forces have met immovable objects.
What's meant to be turned out was not to be. The fear is the Phillies,
for all their aces, all their accolades, all the hype, will somehow fall
short of our expectations, lofty as they are.
They will not be undone in April though. The Phils will begin this
season without two critical pieces, and those absences will undoubtedly
be felt in ninth innings and clutch situations. Still, it's a little
early to be hitting the panic button, don't you think?
Utley will be back. Let's say for the sake of
discussion it's not until after the All Star break, and the Phillies
would have to scrape by for the next three months or so.
Raise your hand if you think they'll be out of the pennant race at
that point. Shoot, raise your hand if you think they won't be in first
That's not intended as a slight on the rest of the NL East. The
Phillies are just that good. They still have five All Stars and two Most
Valuable Players in the starting lineup. They still have four aces, two
Cy Youngs, and a World Series MVP in their rotation.
With or without Utley, the team is going to be right there. You could
make the case the Fightins could win the whole thing without him.,
that's how loaded they are. The fact that he's expected back is a bonus.
And before you go all he might not be 100% on me, that's
fine. 50% of Chase Utley is better than most second basemen. It's not
ideal, but stick him in the lineup somewhere, and he's going to make
good things happen through sheer determination.
Brad Lidge... okay. This certainly is a concern, but
again, not so much because he's going to miss a portion of the season.
With his ever ongoing durability issues, and one very forgettable '09
season lingering in the rear view mirror, it's becoming harder and
harder to gamble on his success.
Which isn't to say there definitely will be rocky roads ahead either. Maybe Lidge returns healthy, and it's Lights Out again.
Or maybe not. Here's the good news though: this gives them plenty of
time to sort it out. I would imagine there will be a few save situations
before Lidge returns, perhaps even a handful in April. (Hey, you don't
know with this caliber starting pitching.) So it stands to reason that
if something should happen and Lidge can't go again, or simply doesn't
have it, Charlie Manuel will know where to turn.
And if nobody takes the ball? Supposing it can't be Madson—or
Contreras, or Romero, or even Matthieson—why not deal for another
closer? Certainly there should be some idea as to whether there is a
finisher in that bullpen by July 31.
Honestly, it's hardly worth getting distressed over so early, not with the roto they have.
Injuries? You haven't seen injuries. Yeah, the rest
of the team isn't exactly a picture of health. Placido Polanco has a
banged up elbow. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard both missed significant
time last season. They're all pretty much in their 30's, which Matt P.
can tell you means everything breaks easier.
It would be foolish not to acknowledge an increasing number of
injuries could derail the Phillies' season, just as it could any team in
any sport. It's the nature of the game.
Well you can only worry about what you know. Utley and Lidge are
hurting. That's not a good start, but it's April. Right now, both guys
are expected back wellll before the post-season begins.
That's what's important. While anything could happen between now and
October, the Phillies not reaching the playoffs should be the last thing
on anybody's mind. What they look like when they get there, that's a
little more difficult to predict, but a couple of injuries on Opening
Day shouldn't leave anybody believing this season is spiraling out of