A few months ago, the venerable Peter Lyons wrote a piece examining five throbbing questions the Phillies faced coming into spring training. Now, as spring training draws to a close, I am going to revisit these swollen, tumescent story lines and see if the Phillies are any closer to achieving full release.
1. Will Chase Utley get any Grapefruit League playing time?
Why yes! Yes, he will! He's played in 19 games, which is 19 more than he's played in his last two spring trainings - combined! Thanks to a new and improved offseason training program in which he never really stops playing baseball, Chase Utley was ready for Grapefruit League play for the first time in two years.
His numbers haven't been stellar. Up until the games this past weekend, he was hitting in the low to mid .200s, though currently his line is .291/.400/.545. On Saturday, Utley hit two home runs in the Phillies' game against Baltimore, and on Sunday he went three-for-four against Boston. I like to think he's heating up in preparation for the regular season.
And really, that's the best part about spring training stats. If they suck you can just say "They're spring training stats! Who cares?!" If they're good, you can still say "They're spring training stats! Who cares?!" but also secretly use them to unadvisedly build up your regular season expectations! And speaking of that, it's worth it to talk about Ryan Howard, as he was injured coming into 2012 and his season suffered mightily for it. Howard came into spring at 100%, and his stats showed it. He's hitting .329/.364/.700 with seven home runs.
Make no mistake -- there were a lot of things that went into last year's flail towards mediocrity. The injuries of Howard and Utley weren't the only issues. But their absence (and continued gimpiness) was absolutely a piece of it. The full time return of a healthy Howard and Utley removes a lot of uncertainty. It's nice to not have to worry about who is going to be playing first or second on any given day, to heave a giant breath when the terrifying specter of Michael Martinez fails to appear in the lineup, leaving you safe for another day.
Of course, their Grapefruit League health and performance is not guaranteed to continue over the full season. No one knows if Utley's knees will hold up, and if he'll be able to be as productive as he's been in the past. And Ryan Howard has historically been a healthy guy (save for the recent Achilles injury and a freak ankle issue back in 2010), so it's his numbers that we have to worry about. He's been walking less, striking out more, all while his home runs have been decreasing. A few months ago, my fiancé jokingly said to me "Wouldn't it be funny if Ryan Howard hit 40 home runs but his average was .210?" No. No, it wouldn't be funny. Given my reaction, I'm sure he's fervently hoping that doesn't come true. So am I.