No Chase Utley? No Ryan Howard? No Placido Polanco? No Problem for the Phillies?
The news Monday morning at Phillies camp was not very pleasant to say the least. There was finally some news on the Chase Utley front, but it wasn’t about his return to the diamond. Instead, the Phillies’ often injured second baseman left spring training to see a knee specialist. Utley had claimed that his right knee was feeling better, but now his left knee seems to be bothering him even worse. While talking with reporters Monday, GM Ruben Amaro stated that it is doubtful that Utley will be ready on Opening Day.
Later on Monday afternoon, Amaro gave a vote of confidence in rookie Freddy Galvis, who will most likely fill in for Utley in the wake of his absence. Galvis is having the best spring of any Phillie so far, but he has yet to see a single pitch in the major leagues let alone have any real significant time at second base.
It’s a herculean task to try and take the place of Chase Utley. On a veteran team like the Phillies, there’s very little time to nurse young talent (as Domonic Brown found out last year). It’s step up or get replaced. Hopefully Galvis turns some heads and steps up to the challenge. He can play all the stellar defense he wants, but Galvis will never be able to replace Utley offensively. Moreover, this Phillies lineup is looking more and more suspect as Opening Day beckons, but more on that later.
As I’ve stressed in several articles over the last week or so, we have to start coming to the realization that Chase Utley’s days as one of the premier players in the game are a thing of the past. Even if Utley returns this year, how good can he be? Furthermore, one National League East scout has gone as far as to say the Phillies are no longer the favorites to win the division after hearing of Utley’s latest setback. Couple Utley’s issues with the uncertainty regarding an effective Ryan Howard in 2012 and it’s not too crazy of a thought that the Phillies’ streak of five straight NL East crowns could possibly be in jeopardy. The division is catching up with them in terms of talent, with the new-look Marlins and Nationals looking very good (at least on paper) along with the Braves.
Keep in mind there are other questions surrounding this team. Since John Mayberry Jr. will most likely be needed at first base, chances are he won’t see as much time as Laynce Nix, who hasn’t played in the outfield in a week and a half due to a rib injury. Both Mayberry and Nix are having awful springs, so Scott Podsednik or Juan Pierre are also getting a chance to possibly get some playing time in left field depending on who makes the club. According to Howard Eskin, Podsednik reportedly has the edge over Pierre to come back north with the Phillies.
Then there’s Placido Polanco, who sprained his finger diving back into first base Saturday afternoon. Although he’ll miss just a few games, Polanco has not been able to stay healthy during his second tour of duty with the Phils. If Galvis falters, Polanco could play second base, but it won’t matter if he keeps breaking down.
With the countless number of injuries that always plague this Phillies team, something tells me Ty Wigginton (who has played all four infield positions as well as the corner outfield spots) is going to get lots of playing time this year.
Who knows? Maybe we’re overreacting and Utley can be serviceable. Maybe Howard will come back and be a force. Maybe this is the worst injury Polanco will get this year.
Yes, I know that three fourths of the Phillies projected infield might not play together until July or later. As we witnessed last year however, it’s not how you start, it’s how hot you get in October. The regular season means nothing, and I’ll gladly take 90 wins and roll the dice in the playoffs.
That is, if the Phillies can overcome yet another hurdle.
Contact Joe Vallee at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Howard photo: phillysportslive.com
Chase Utley photo: the700level.com