Continuing from yesterday, I’m looking at some of the reasons that people have given as to why the Phillies won’t win the National League East this season.
I’ll take a look at each reason and explain why it won’t keep them from capturing the division title yet again.
Spring Training has not been good to the Phillies as far as injuries go. They have had several key players suffer injuries, some of which may potentially cause them to miss significant time in the regular season.
While it may seem like the Phillies are suffering worse than most, it appears that most of the injuries are nothing to get too concerned about.
Rookie Domonic Brown broke his hand, but there was a good chance that he wasn’t going to make the team to begin the season anyway.
As far as players who will make the team, Shane Victorino was injured in an outfield collision, but has since recovered, and this shouldn’t be an issue. More concerning is Placido Polanco who re-injured his surgically repaired elbow. This injury may nag him throughout the season, but he is scheduled to play Opening Day, so it shouldn’t be seen as a major problem. At least not yet.
Side note: If you’re going to pick the Braves due to the Phillies injuries, don’t you also have to consider that Chipper Jones is unlikely to make it through an entire season healthy? And yet the Braves lineup is still quite dependent on him being a run producer.
Two injuries for the Phillies do shape up as potential causes for concern, as they are key players who will starting the season on the disabled list.
We’ll start with the closer Brad Lidge who looks to be out for a couple of months with a shoulder injury. Lidge seems to be injured at the start of every season, so this is nothing new for the team.
In his place, Jose Contreras will serve as the closer. Contreras was a solid addition to last year’s team, pitching well in a late inning setup role. He even successfully filled in as closer for a couple of weeks when both Lidge and setup man Ryan Madson (MADSON!!!) were injured.
Will he be a dominant, elite closer? Probably not. But based on his success last year, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be effective at the role and get the job done the majority of the time.
If he falters, the Phillies can always turn to Madson. Over the past couple seasons, Madson has been amazing when pitching in the 8th, but shaky when pitching in the 9th. I have a feeling that is why they opted to go with Contreras over him.
The bigger problem may come in earlier innings. Contreras was originally supposed to pitch in the 7th inning, and now that void needs to be filled. It appears that the job will initially be split between right-hander Danys Baez and left-hander J.C. Romero. While both pitchers have been successful in the past, they both suffered from disappointing 2010 seasons.
Could they be replaced by one of the other relievers? David Herndon, Kyle Kendrick, and Antonio Bastardo have had varying degrees of success in their careers, but it might be a stretch to ask them to fill a crucial role.
Still, I am not too concerned about Lidge’s absence hurting the team. As long as Contreras isn’t a complete disaster – and there’s no reason to expect him to be – then they should be fine.
Remember that there’s a good chance that there won’t be many relief innings to go around. It’s reasonable to think that the starting pitcher could pitch into at least the 7th inning on most nights. Even the rotation’s weak (and this is a very relative term) link Joe Blanton is known for pitching a lot of innings.
On the other hand, Chase Utley’s injury is a definite cause for concern. A five-time All-Star, Utley is often regarded as the best second baseman in baseball. He typically bats third in the Phillies lineup, and his combination of power, speed, and defense make him an especially valuable player.
So it was troublesome when after just a couple of days of Spring workouts, he began to suffer knee soreness. At first he wasn’t concerned as he apparently feels some sort of soreness every year, and it typically goes away after a couple of days. This season it did not.
Eventually he was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis and a condition known as chondromalacia. Neither Utley nor the medical experts who’ve examined him know exactly how to proceed. Apparently, to surgically repair the problem could cause Utley to miss the majority of the season and may not even fix the problem. So for now, he’s treating the problem by resting and stretching.
There’s a very real concern that this injury causes Utley to miss a significant amount of time, and even if he gets healthy enough to play, the injury could reoccur.
If he is indeed going to miss most of the season, this is a huge loss. They will go from having perhaps the best second baseman in baseball to perhaps the worst.
During his absence, the majority of games at second base will be played by Wilson Valdez. Valdez is a career journeyman who did a decent job of filling in for both Utley and Jimmy Rollins last season when they were injured. He is an excellent defender, but his offensive limitations probably don’t make him suited for a full-time job.
So will Utley’s injury decimate the Phillies lineup, and keep them from the playoffs?
It should be noted that Utley has been injured quite a bit over the last few seasons, and last year in particular. Due to a strained hand ligament, he missed almost two months of the season. But even before his injury he seemed to be struggling a bit. And after he returned, he clearly hadn’t gotten his hitting stroke completely back.
He has also played through injuries that have diminished his abilities somewhat. Most prominent was his injured hip in 2008 which sapped him of much of his power throughout the second half of that season. So the team has been able to overcome both absences and injury related drop offs by Utley before.
If Utley can return by the All-Star break (which is what optimistic reports are now predicting) there is reason to believe this might actually help him in the second half of the season. Utley has shown a tendency to wear down later in the season, and missing a couple of months may help offset that.
Assuming that his hitting isn’t negatively affected (By all reports, it is not. He has been able to take batting practice without discomfort and it is believed that he would be able to DH if possible) then we might actually see a better hitting Utley in the late months than we’re used to.
If that is indeed the case, then the situation might work out fine for the Phillies.
Injuries are always a cause for concern. And with an older team like the Phillies, injuries do seem to be more common. But unless they lose two of their starting pitchers for an extended amount of time, I don’t think injuries can keep this team from winning again.
They withstood extended absences from both Utley and Rollins last year, and that was with most of the surrounding lineup underacheiving. If their other players can come close to their career norms, then Utley missing a couple of months shouldn’t be devastating.
If Utley’s injury does prove to be a season-long issue, then they might have a real issue, but for now, there’s no reason to think that this will slow them down.