It's safe to say that the Philadelphia Phillies had a boatload of obstacles in their way during the 2012 season. Despite the All-Star caliber play of guys like Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Cole Hamels, and the success of Jimmy Rollins and Cliff Lee (win total not included), wins eluded this Phillies squad for a majority of the season.
One of the biggest reasons why the Phillies failed to defend their five consecutive NL East division titles was due to the health of some of their key players.
Chase Utley sat out the second straight spring training and most of the first half of the season due to his patellar tendinitis and chrondromalacia, while Ryan Howard lost a little over half of 2012 due to his infamous torn Achilles tendon in the final at-bat of the 2011 NLDS.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, was the injury which afflicted Roy Halladay. Doc had been coming off a 2011 season which saw him place second in the NL Cy Young Award voting only to Triple Crown winner Clayton Kershaw and a 2010 season that saw him win the award.
Heading into 2012, the last thing anybody expected was for Doc to start the season off injured. In spring training, rumors surfaced that Halladay's fastball velocity had dropped significantly from 2011, and while it wasn't a huge issue at the beginning of spring training, Doc's lack of success in Clearwater prior to the season was a bit alarming.
He seemingly put the commotion to rest after a stellar April that saw him go 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA. However, May was much, much worse for Halladay, and by the end of the month he hit the DL for the first time in four years due to a shoulder strain. He didn't return until just after the All-Star break.
These three players, Utley, Howard and Halladay, have made up the core of the Phillies' roster for the past three years (in Doc's case) and even longer for the former two.
Utley was once the undisputed best second baseman in baseball. Howard was once a feared home-run hitter who had the potential to smack a pitch out of the ballpark at any given time.
And even less long ago, Doc was considered one of baseball's most intimidating pitchers with an intellect for his repertoire that could fool you despite not having strikeout stuff all the time.
However, with age comes wear and tear, and that's certainly been the case for these three players. Utley's knee tendinitis and chrondromalacia (worn down cartilage) are issues that can only be temporarily remedied. Surgery doesn't even provide a full guarantee, and it would sideline the now-34-year-old for most, if not all of a season.
Howard has had issues ever since twisting and spraining his ankle on a slide back to second base in 2010. After receiving multiple cortisone shots in the ankle, there's a possibility that the cortisone weakened his Achilles tendon, allowing it to tear in his final at-bat against St. Louis in the 2011 NLDS.
Halladay's cause for his shoulder strain has been thought to be the result of years and years of innings logged up on it without any significant problems beforehand.
Until 2012, the last time Doc hadn't reached 200 innings in a season was 2005, and from 2007 through 2011, he pitched at least seven complete games in each of those seasons.
After a certain point it's going to take its toll, and unfortunately for the 35-year-old Halladay and the Phillies, that time may have been 2012.
The good news is that there's hope for all three of these players to find a resurgence and get back on track. Granted, the chances that any of or all Utley, Howard and Halladay will return to All-Star caliber play are not necessarily in their favor, but to think that each of the three can't at least be above average at their respective positions is not out of the question. The only problem is that it revolves around a lot of "ifs" as opposed to guarantees.
First of all, Utley has the chance to come back as close to full strength as possible if he can play the majority of spring training. Fortunately, that may not be a hard obstacle for Utley to overcome, as he's "doing very, very well" with his workouts in California, according to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro.
Considering it's been since 2010 that Utley's played in a single spring training game, seeing him in action in Clearwater would be extremely encouraging.
Howard, per Amaro at the beginning of the offseason, said that Howard's "already lost a significant amount of weight." Whether that means anything or not in terms of how mobile he'll be remains to be seen, but it's certainly not a bad thing when he's already somewhat limited by his ailing Achilles.
If Howard has or does strengthen himself up to the point where he can hit 35 or even 40 home runs again on the season, Phillies brass and fans alike would be thrilled.
As for Halladay, he's got a reputation as one of the hardest-working players. His work ethic is unparalleled and the amount of time (in addition to time of day, at around five in the morning) he takes out to focus on his workouts every day is incredible.
And this offseason, in order to rebound from his disastrous 2012, Doc has been working out with Kyle Kendrick and has been strengthening his arm in addition to tinkering with his mechanics. Should they return to form, Doc should find himself back at the pinnacle of pitching in 2013.
Now let's make things interesting. Given the status of these three players, which one has the highest potential of bouncing back from 2012?
The name I'm going to cross off the list immediately is Howard. I don't think that the Big Piece is not going to bounce back, but I think his chances of well-rounded success aren't especially good.
Whether it's his batting average, home run count or OBP, Howard doesn't have the same presence nor same bat since he returned in 2012, and from an unprofessional view (again, I'm not a doctor), I don't think that a repaired Achilles will bring that back for him.
That leaves us with Utley and Halladay, and I'll be honest, it's not an easy decision. Utley plays hard every time he takes the field, which is also a potential reason for his ailments. And with Doc being such a determined worker, it's an even split. But a decision will be made.
Utley certainly has more to overcome than Halladay does, in my opinion. He hasn't played in a spring training game in three years and has not taken the field for an April game in three years as well. The earliest he's played in either of 2011 or 2013 was May 23.
Who do you think will have the biggest bounce-back year?
The good news is that, at least for now, Utley looks like he's on track to play in spring training and open the season with the Phillies. But until he does, I'm reserving judgment on him. After all, his injury concerns have been withheld in the past from the media and public. How do we know that isn't happening again? Heck, we don't even know if Cole Hamels is fully healthy, thanks to Amaro.
In Halladay's case, he has more to prove in 2012. Utley's being held to a lower standard since he's had these issues for quite some time now. But for Doc, he's out there to prove that 2012 was a fluke and that he's still the same pitcher who took home the hardware as recently as 2010.
Knowing that a World Series ring has continued to evade him, Doc will be more motivated than ever to earn one as the Phillies' possibly final chance at winning it all stands before them in 2013.
Due to the nature of Utley's injuries as opposed to Halladay's, Doc's well-established track record of determination and his desire to still win the World Series, I think that Halladay will have the biggest bounce-back year of this group of players.
He's still got a chance at a ring, but unlike Utley and Howard, he still has yet to be doused with victory champagne at the end of October.
Having said that, in the final guaranteed year of his contract, Doc will want to prove that he's worthy of another deal in addition to worthy of remaining the Phillies' ace. He's got a lot on his shoulders, but if he can brush off the 2012 season, little prevents Halladay from rebounding in 2013.