Pitching isn’t the Philadelphia Phillies problem. Throwing a Cy Young candidate virtually every night is in large part the reason for the Phillies having the lowest team ERA (3.05) in all of baseball. And just when the opponent things they will catch a break and face a rookie, Vance Worley comes at you with every bit off effectiveness as anyone else on the staff, if not more. At 11-1 with a 2.85 he’d be the ace of a number of teams in MLB.
Offense has been the concern for Philadelphia most of the year. When I say concern, I use the word mildly because a 91-48 with the best record in baseball, it’s hard to say the Phillies should be concerned about anything. The Phillies are 11th out of 30 MLB teams in runs scored with 636. That’s not a metric that Philadelphia with their talent and that ballpark is used to seeing. While having 1/3 of the teams in the game with better offenses didn’t affect the Fightins during the season, it’s certainly something they are concerned about in the post season. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. knows this, that’s’ why he traded for Hunter Pence.
The Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves 3-2 Wednesday night sweeping the three game series, putting punctuation on their imminent NL East crown. In the process however they may have lost Chase Utley, for the playoffs, a matter that still remains to be seen. Utley was hit on the back of the batting helmet by left-handed reliever Eric O’Flaherty in the sixth inning and sustained a concussion. Utley remained in the game and started to get a headache while playing the field in the seventh. Team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti, head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan and a concussion specialist have decided not to have Utley fly to Milwaukee, where the team opens a four-game series against the Brewers on Thursday (more on that later.)
At the moment the concussion is being reported as mild and it’s suggested that the gritty second basemen will only miss a few games but we all know how that goes. The Mets’ Jayson Bay had a “mild concussion” last year; he ended up missing considerable time which eventually translated into what appears to be a career altering experience. Most news outlets are suggesting that he may only miss two games, but given that he didn’t even make the trip with the team to Milwaukee, I’m not buying it. The Phillies travel to Houston for three games after the four in Milwaukee before returning home, and I can’t see the Phillies putting him on a plane at all if they think he’s had a concussion. I’d be shocked if Utley wasn’t out for the next seven games at a minimum, if nothing else than for precautionary reasons.
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A five-time All-Star second baseman, Utley missed time at the beginning of the season as he recovered from knee surgery. In 88 games on the year Utley is hitting .262 with 10 HR and 41 RBI. No matter how productive Utley has been during the year, anyone who has watched the Phillies play playoff baseball before knows they are a different team with him in the lineup. He’s battle tested and proven to be clutch in the playoffs, and batting third in the line-up is smack center in the middle of where the Phillies depend on production to come from. Not having him in the lineup not only takes away the threat of what he can do at the plate, but it changes the way that Ryan Howard can and will be pitched to as well.
If the Phillies lose Utley for the post season this could be a bigger blow to the team than people are making it out to be. With a healthy Utley in the lineup, the Phillies are the clear cut favorites to represent the NL in the 2011 World Series, without him however, in my opinion that designation shifts to the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s a small sample but so far the Phillies are 1-2 against the Brewers this year scoring 7 runs and allowing 18. They’ll get to find out how they matchup against the Brewers without Utley right away as their four game series with the Brew Crew starts tonight.
MLB Playoff Update
The Los Angeles Angels still have destiny in their own hands. They are 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers and play them the last three games of the year. Time is running out on the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals however as they are 7 and 8.5 games out respectively in their divisional races with only 19-games to play. As for the Wild Card, the Cardinals are 6.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves for the NL Wild Card and the Giants are 7.5 games out.