Getting Chase Utley back really gave the Phillies a shot in the arm despite losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates, 11-7, on Wednesday night. Utley immediately smacked a home run in his first trip to the plate. He also went 3-for-5 in his first game back after starting the season on the disabled list with bilateral chondromalacia in his left knee.
The Phillies really need their second baseman as the team moves closer to the All-Star break. But the Phillies are anxiously awaiting the return of first baseman and slugger Ryan Howard, who has been nursing his left Achilles injury. Howard has started a rehab assignment with Class A Lakewood. He is expected to come back after the All-Star break.
Howard could have a significant impact in regard to the type of pitches the other players like Hunter Pence, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz will receive with his presence in the lineup. Even though Howard will be coming off a major injury, he’s still a threat to most pitchers in the National League.
If he can swing the bat and provide some power, drive in some runs and hit the ball consistently, that should give the Phillies a big lift just as Utley did in his first appearance. He’s not going to be the player who garnered MVP honors or who carried the Phillies with his home run power to the 2008 World Series right now. It’s going to take some time to get his timing back, particularly in the field.
The big thing with Howard as well as Utley is not their fielding. It’s their hitting. The Phillies need to score runs. They’ve had a number of games where runners have been stranded on base.
The Phillies are trying to get back into the playoff race. They’re currently in fourth place in the National League East. The Phillies are nine games out of first place behind the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets respectively. They’re seven and a half games out in the Wild Card standings. In order for the Phillies to land a Wild Card berth, they would have to leap frog over seven teams. The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers lead in the Wild Card standings. Two Wild Card teams will make the playoffs this year. The Phillies hope to be one of them.
The Phillies have 74 games left after the All-Star break. It’s going to be interesting to see how big a contribution Utley and Howard can make in the second half of the season. Every series is going to be crucial. The Phillies will have to win most of them or even sweep some of them to move into contention. Everybody will be watching to see if two of the Phillies best players can give them something on a regular basis as the most important part of season take shape.