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Have you already penciled the Phillies in atop your projected NL East standings? Well, you might want to find an eraser.

Ryan Howard is going to miss the first two months of the season while recovering from the Achilles injury he suffered last October, and it now appears that Chase Utley will be joining him on the disabled list with recurring knee woes. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels should hold down their end of the fort, but questions about the Phillies’ offense are looming rather large as the season approaches.

The probable replacement for Utley is 22-year-old minor leaguer Freddy Galvis, who hit .278/.324/.392 while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Though he may one day develop into a respectable hitter, Galvis is currently an all-pick, no-stick player, offering little pop and even less plate discipline. He should adequately supplant Utley’s glove, but he won’t be batting in the middle of Charlie Manuel’s order any time soon.

With their first and second basemen shelved, the Phillies badly need third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins to stay healthy. Unfortunately, both have required at least one disabled list stint in each of the past two seasons. At 36 and 33, respectively, Polanco and Rollins figure to need 15-20 games off, even if they are able to dodge the injury bug.

All of that means more playing time for Galvis, Michael Martinez, and Ty Wigginton—a trio fans would much rather see at Coca-Cola Park than Citizens Bank Park. And this is the team the Philadelphia Inquirer two weeks ago called “the unquestioned favorite?” Not anymore.

As of yesterday, PECOTA was projecting a tie between the Phillies and Braves at 88-74, with the Marlins nipping at their heels, and the Nationals five games back. Age is dragging the Phillies down, while youth is simultaneously fueling their rivals’ surges, perhaps a year earlier than expected.

The longer Howard and Utley sit, the bleaker the Phillies’ outlook will become. PECOTA sees remarkable parity in the top half of the senior circuit, so a win or two could be the difference between the league’s top playoff seed and a chance to dust off the golf clubs before winter hits. A setback here and a slow start there could leave the “unquestioned favorite” watching the postseason from home. 

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mhmosher
3/20
I am surprised more publications didn't pick someone other than the Phillies to win the division. Just my take, but I think the Nats are going to win it. The Phillies offense is horrendous.
dcoonce
3/20
I find it interesting that so many bemoan the loss of Ryan Howard - dude batted 253/346/488 last year. That's right, The Phillies' cleanup hitter, who plays half his games in a bandbox, didn't even slug .500 and the rest of his stats are pedestrian to say the least, unless you're Murray Chass and worship at the RBI altar. What I'm getting at is that his production can probably be replaced with some combination of Thome, Mayberry, Brown and Wigginton. It's Utley's work at the plate that should have Phils fans worried about replacements. Because there's nobody to replace his numbers. Howard is easy to replace.
statsrath
3/20
Replacing Utley will definitely be much harder than replacing Howard. But it's not entirely clear to me that the Phillies have the pieces to replace Howard without hurting themselves at other positions. It's hard to say if Thome can stay healthy if pressed into regular duty there. Mayberry could probably do it, but unless they commit to Brown in left field, that position becomes a black hole (Nix, Pierre) if Mayberry plays first full-time. Wigginton is essentially useless at this point, apart from his ability to hit left-handed pitching. So, yes, a Mayberry/Wigginton/Thome carousel should at least approximate Howard's value at 1B—but probably at the expense of making other positions even worse and, as you said, making Utley even harder to replace.
statsrath
3/20
Based on this, it sounds as though the Phillies might need a short-term backup for their backup: https://twitter.com/#!/ToddZolecki/status/182195555202629633
kmbart
3/20
Is this Utley guy the one who posted a .259/.344/.425 line last year? As a Phillies fan I'm concerned about their offense, but I didn't think Utley was going to be much of a contributor this season, much like he wasn't last year. Howard's production is a loss, but a full year of Pence, no Ibanez, and a lot of Domonic Brown would go a long way towards righting the ship. Perhaps Polanco and Rollins will stay healthy enough to play in 120 games each, but it's a team built around great starting pitching, good defense (which is where Utley WILL be missed), and a solid bullpen. If no Utley and no Howard means that the Cholly Man has to look for some offense other than 3-run homers, that can only help their cause.