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Is Phillies' potential "Dream Season" turning into a nightmare?

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"KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

Maybe this is what we get for feeling pretty good about our baseball team’s chances for another parade before they even play an official game.

After all, this IS Philadelphia. Despite our team’s recent success in the last few years, let’s not forget we are 0-2 in championship play since our town last won its first title in 25 years three years ago.

And so the Phillies, considered by many Vegas “experts” to still win the World Series by 2-1 odds despite a rash of injuries, suddenly have a long list of concerns as Opening Day arrives. Some of these problems might not be a serious as they seem. Some however, could have an immense impact on the fate of their season. Here are some of the Phillies recent unexpected (and expected) issues as April 1st beckons.


1. Chase Utley’s injury- Let me say out loud what everybody knows (including the Phillies) about Utley’sChase Utley photo: https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-GbKE2gFpZ6I/TXPqfOgiu0I/AAAAAAAAAH0/J0UJs5Tiyhs/s320/Utleyshoes.jpg patellar tendinitis in his knee- It’s worse than they think. I’m actually sick of talking about it. Did Utley aggravate this in camp? Did he have it the whole off-season? Utley’s wife Jennifer said that the two aren’t concerned the injury is career or season ending. However, players such as Brandon Inge of the Tigers (who suffered the same injury) did not exactly offer any encouraging words for Utley as far as recovery time goes.

Utley is going to be out for a while. And even if he returns and goes full boar like only Utley can, all of this resting will mean nothing if he reaggravates the knee again. As far as possible replacements go for Utley, you can forget Michael Young ($48 million left on his Rangers contract). Luis Castillio has no skills left and represented everything that is wrong with the Mets’ clubhouse. You can put Wilson Valdez there for a short while, but NONE of these players such as Josh Barfield or Pete Orr can ever come close to Utley’s intangibles.

2. Your No.3 AND No. 5 hitters: With Utley out for what might be a long time, the concerns literally double as far as who goes where in your lineup. Do you put Placido Polanco there? Raul Ibanez?

As for the fifth spot, we all knew this would be an issue with the loss of Jayson Werth. The questions kept coming when Domonic Brown struggled this spring and then broke his hand. It now looks like Ben Francisco will start the season in right, but can he play a full season and produce consistently? Francisco’s last two post seasons have been an absolute disaster, also a cause for concern should the Phillies advance to the playoffs (don’t be surprised I said that). Is he legitimate enough to hit behind Ryan Howard? Who may possibly never see a fastball again? Ibanez is a .295 lifetime hitter in the fifth spot, but that’s back-to-back lefties whether you put him third or fifth. Moreover, he will be 39 years old in a few months. Decisions, decisions......

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3. Brad Lidge and his 86mph fastball- Sure, Lidge has been injured often during Brad Lidge photo: AP/Courtesy of CSNPhilly.com.his four seasons with the Phillies (including 2008), but his very low velocity on his fastball this spring raises some eyebrows- considering Lidge was healthy up until a few days ago when he was shelved with bicep tendinitis.

Although Lidge recently threw a pain free bullpen session, I’ll I know is, that fastball better get cracking again, or every hitter will look like A-Roid to Lidge this year. If this turns out to be the case, Lidge, who has a contract option for 2012, could be possibly spending his last days in a Phillies uniform. How confident are you in Ryan Madson closing full-time?

4. Placido Polanco’s elbow- Polanco hyperextended the same elbow he recently had surgery on while swinging the other day. While Polanco insists the team is just taking caution by sitting him, you still have to wonder. Polanco is the consumate team player, and with Utley sidelined, lets hope he’s not taking one for the team by downplaying this injury.

5. This team is aging- fast!- Only Ben Francisco is under 30 in this starting lineup. Nagging injuries for Utley (32), Polanco (35), and Lidge (34) show that maybe the sun is setting quicker on this team than Ruben Amaro expected. With the exception of Cole Hamels (27), our other horses are 30 or over. Roy Halladay will be 34, Cliff Lee will be 33 by season’s end and Roy Oswalt will be 34. J.C. Romero will be 35, Joe Blanton and Madson are both 30, and only Jose Contreras’ mother knows how old he really is.

The bench is no exception either. Wilson Valdez will be 33, Ross Gload will be 35, and Brian Schneider is 34.  Kyle Kendrick (26) and Antonio Bastardo (25) are the only real “youngsters” on the team, and Kendrick is close to five years of major league service.

Bottom Line: The Phillies couldn’t have predicted any of these injuries, but their minor league system is not stacked as it once was, and their payroll flexibility is not even limited-it’s maxed out. In other words, Amaro is really going to have to get creative if Utley or any of the above mentioned are out for an extended period of time.

Injuries are part of the game, but you have to hope that they don’t cripple what has the potential to be a storybook season for the Phillies- a franchise looking to return to the top of the baseball world for the second time in four seasons.

In the meantime, Keep on Phightin.'

 

Joe Vallee is a lifelong Phillies fan and former Phillies batboy. Joe has claimed to have seen about 98% of every Phillies game since the early 1980's.

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Utley photo: https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-GbKE2gFpZ6I/TXPqfOgiu0I/AAAAAAAAAH0/J0UJs5Tiyhs/s320/Utleyshoes.jpg

Lidge photo: CSNPhilly.com/AP