8 Reasons to Believe in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley This Season
As of this writing, the Phillies are three games under .500 and nine games out of first place. Roy Halladay is on the disabled list, Cliff Lee does not have a win yet.
And here comes a slideshow on why you should hold out hope for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley not for 2013, but for THIS SEASON. There is a risk to sounding like the purser on the Titanic in putting this together.
That’s not lost on me, but indulge me anyway.
Ryan Howard Is Coming Back Sooner Than Once Thought
Howard is not coming back before the All-Star Break, but be honest: From the moment he crumpled in a heap on the last swing of the 2011 season, you knew this was not a sprain.
The early propaganda from the Phillies camp that Howard might come back in May or June was always patently ridiculous. It is normally a year-long injury; for basketball players it is often more, according to ESPN. So the fact that Howard is at least hoping to play this season (August?) (maybe July?) is worth rooting for (via Fox43.com).
Chase Utley Is Further Along Than Howard—by a Lot
Utley is in the midst of a 20-day rehabilitation assignment in Clearwater. Granted, hearing about him going 0-5 against A-ball pitching does not immediately instill confidence, but at least he is doing something resembling playing baseball (via AOL Sporting News).
You are very likely to see Utley back with the Phillies in early July which, again, was nothing guaranteed in the preseason.
Chase Utley Has a Lot More to Play for Than Your Rooting Interest
Setting aside questions of legacy, Utley is all of the sudden a player who needs to start thinking about his future.
He is signed through 2013 (another $15M next season) and then, well, who knows? Will his knees allow him to play in the National League anymore? Is he better served being a designated hitter somewhere in the Junior Circuit?
Utley has always seemed like a player who valued his place as a Phillie. But if he really wants to stay, he has a season-and-a-half to prove that he can play every day—if not at second base, then at least at third base or in the outfield.
The Rule of 75 Percent
There is this sense that the Phillies and their fans are expecting Howard and Utley to come back and carry the team on their return.
That is not going to happen.
Howard and Utley have been in declines of their own for the past few seasons. They are still, however, credible major league hitters who still draw the respect of opposing pitchers. Even at, say, 75 percent of what they used to be, they will be more valuable than 100 percent of the players they will replace.
The Domino Effect
Not only do the Phillies get Howard and Utley back into the lineup regularly, they will get role players like Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, Jr., Michael Martinez and Jim Thome back into being what they were intended to be when the plans for 2012 were drawn up: role players.
Rolling your eyes when Wigginton hits into another 6-3 ground out is pretty unfair to him when you consider that he is on pace for more at-bats than he has had in three of the past four years out of necessity.
Mayberry, Jr., and Thome go back to being late-inning situational pinch hitters. Martinez goes back to playing once a week and pinch-running.
That was how it was supposed to be.
The Division Race Is Probably Not over Yet
Can the Washington Nationals run away and hide with the National League East?
As recently as two seasons ago, though, the Nationals lost 93 games. Now the league is supposed to just stand aside because the Nationals are playing .623 baseball through 61 games?
Easy there, hard charger.
It is a short, deep fall from “we’re uncatchable” to “we spit it up.” Ask the 2007 and 2008 New York Mets for details (via NY Post).
The Playoff Race Is Definitely Not over Yet
In Major League Baseball’s ongoing quest to become the National Hockey League—where everyone around .500 makes the playoffs—there is a second wild-card berth to the postseason tournament up for grabs in 2012, according to MLB.com
For Phillies fans used to clinching home field throughout the playoffs, this is “underwear for a Christmas present” territory, but nobody made the St. Louis Cardinals apologize for sneaking into the playoffs on the last day when they were dog piling on each other as world champions last October.
The last playoff spot—any playoff spot—is worth fighting for, always.
You Have A Better Idea?
Let’s assume you have read all this and still have no intention of waiting around for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to come back and help the Phillies this season.
I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that you may well be right—that by the time Howard and Utley come back, the team will be so far gone in the standings that ideas like trading Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino are more than just in play (via NBC Philadelphia).
The bad news is, even if you are right, the Philadelphia Eagles do not open camp until July 22, 2012. Enjoy waiting for that.