Chase Utley Returns: 1 of 7 Reasons Not to Write off the Phillies in 2012
After opening the 2012 season with superstars and offensive leaders Chase Utley and Ryan Howard on the disabled list, expectations were that the Philadelphia Phillies might be in a bit of trouble this year.
Multiple free agent acquisitions by the Miami Marlins, the return of Stephen Strasburg to the Washington Nationals and a solid Atlanta Braves team all in the same division were also reasons for great concern.
Winners of five consecutive National League titles, the Phillies were still expected to compete for yet another first-place finish. But with practically half the season in the rear view mirror, the Phillies find themselves barely out of the cellar and hanging on for dear life.
Despite everything that has gone against them, there is still plenty of reason to believe that this club can win the NL East again, and have a chance to compete in yet another World Series this fall.
Chase Utley Is Back
Injury-riddled-All-Star-second-baseman Chase Utley has not played a full season since 2009. In his 10th year in Philadelphia he has established himself as one of the leaders of this team.
The return of Utley Wednesday night may be the spark that the Phillies need to get back in the race. Philly opened the 2012 season knowing that they just had to hang on until their stars (Utley and Howard) returned.
Even though it was much later than expected, Utley is finally back, and his offensive punch has been sorely missed.
Good Pitching Always Has a Chance
Ace-starter Cliff Lee spent time on the disabled list earlier this season, and Roy Halladay is there now. In the first half, these dominant pitchers combined for only four wins. However, we all know that they'll be back in form soon.
Cole Hamels (10-3, 3.03 ERA) helped to pick up the slack in the first half, and if these three have their good stuff going at the same time, sweeping any series is not only possible but likely.
Don't forget about closer Jonathan Papelbon either. His 18 saves and dependability in the ninth will help put to rest any thought of late inning heroics.
Pitching like this will keep the Phillies in the running.
Been There, Done That: Experience Is Invaluable
The Phillies are no strangers to the spotlight. As the days get hotter and the pressure of the pennant race mounts, it's not Philadelphia who will be feeling the heat.
Again, after winning the National League East five times running, this team knows exactly what it takes to make it through a 162 game season and come out on top.
If this were a sprint to the finish, they might be in trouble. But this is a marathon, and no other team in the NL East has survived one in quite a while.
The ability to fight through a slump and maintain focus when times are tough is a commodity that only the Phillies have proven to possess.
No One Is Running Away with the Division
The Washington Nationals have the best record in the National League, yet they aren't even a .600 club. While they have been impressive, their offense has been average at best, and they have often relied solely on pitching.
As well as the Mets have played of late, very few people are taking them seriously as a postseason threat. Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey have been amazing, but David Wright cannot do it all by himself at the plate.
The Braves have suffered their fair share of injuries, and recently losing Brandon Beachy, their most dependable starter in 2012, is a huge problem. They have offensive firepower, but they also have a number of young bats that have proven to go dormant for extended periods of time.
The Marlins have hit the skids in June, and are suddenly in danger of falling out of the race.
Baseball Has Seen Late Season Miracles Before
On August 24th, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals were 10.5 games behind Atlanta in the Wild Card race. Less than six weeks later, the Cardinals had won the Wild Card race and were on their way to a World Championship. This kind of thing has happened before, and it will happen again.
The Phillies entered Wednesday only eight games behind the division leading Nationals. If my calendar is right, we are about eight weeks away from August 24th.
If Philadelphia is more than 10 games back when we get to late August we can reopen this discussion. But again, with as many games to be played head-to-head, and half of the season still ahead, there is more than enough time to right the ship.
The Other Wild Card
Whether we wanted it or not, Major League Baseball has blessed its fans with yet another Wild Card team in each league this year. This provides one more less-than-deserving team a chance to run the table in October.
Currently, there are no fewer than 10 teams in the National League that are within 10 games of the Wild Card slot.
Having yet another opportunity for postseason glory may be exactly what a team like the Phillies needs.
Sure, they would have to win a one game playoff to truly be a playoff team, but guys like Halladay, Hamels, and Lee can make that happen.
Divisional Play Dominates the Second Half
Going into this coming weekend, the Phillies will have 84 games remaining in the season. 48 of those (57 percent) are against either the Braves (15), Marlins (12), Nationals (12) or Mets (9).
When playing your competition this many times in a short span, every game counts and deficits can be made up quickly.
The simple fact that they are within 10 games of first with this many games to play within the division gives them a very good chance to work their way up the divisional ladder.