Chase Utley is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment Monday in Clearwater, Florida. He has spent the past months trying to strengthen his chronically sore knees which have limited the star second basemen’s productivity and ability to stay on the field over the past two and a half seasons. As a result of losing Utley and 1st basemen Ryan Howard the Phillies usually potent offense has become stagnant and struggled for the majority of the season. They have also not been getting the production from their starting pitching that everyone expected. Cliff Lee is still without a win for the season which seemed unimaginable in spring training. Roy Halladay is out for approximately 7 more weeks and before he was injured he had a losing record at 4-5. Cole Hamels is having a typical stellar season with a record of 8-2 and an ERA of 2.81, but even that positive has a dark cloud hanging over it with Hamel’s contract situation looming. Still all in all the Phillies are weathering the storm and are keeping their playoff hopes afloat.
Utley’s return could spark the offensive production and team morale though the hopes seem tempered given the chronic nature of his injuries and the drop off of his power numbers in the past two seasons. Still, even without Utley and Howard who was the team’s main power threat and one of the best hitting 1st basemen in the big leagues, the Phillies offense has been improving. Their currently ranked 15th in runs, 5th in batting average, 14th in on base percentage and 15th in slugging percentage, all improvements. Carlos Ruiz has had a spectacular season at the plate to go along with his usually exceptional defense and throwing arm. Hunter Pence, despite some poor at bats early in the season has generally lived up to expectations in South Philly and played well this year, ranking 4th in the N.L. with 13 homers and 2nd in the N.L. in runs with 40. He also leads the team in home runs and runs, R.B.I. (34) and O.P.S. (.842).
The record is improving as well. The Phill’s took three out of four from the Cardinals on Memorial Day Weekend and followed it up by taking two out of three from the Mets. This past weekend saw the surging Marlins come to Citizens Bank Park and win two of three which featured a Cole Hamels loss and a deep Carlos Zambrano home run to go along with his victory on Sunday. Vance Worley will be making his return for the Phillies tonight against the Dodgers, in Philadelphia. He’ll be facing Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw. Despite their last place standing in the surprisingly tough N.L. East the Phillies are only three and a half games out of first place with the Nationals, Mets and Marlins knotted up at the top. If they can get quality pitching from Lee, Hamels and Worley and continue to hold on offensively until they get Howard and Utley back a veteran team with a winning pedigree like this Phillies group could be a troubling match up come October.
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Written by Tom Bopp