The Philadelphia Phillies have been as well-situated at second base as any team in baseball, going back several years with Chase Utley. Now, with Utley’s body showing continual signs of wear-and-tear, and the announcement by Phillies GM Ruben Amaro that Utley’s expected to miss Opening Day, the precariousness of the Phils’ situation at this key middle infield spot is being shown.
There are no good alternatives to Utley. The veteran holdovers are Michael Martinez and Pete Orr, neither one a true second baseman, and neither one a remotely qualified major league hitter. The Phils seem to realize this and the inclination appears to be letting prospect Freddy Galvis get the playing time there while Utley gets his knee healthy. In this regard, the Phils are proving smarter than the Red Sox, who have a similar conundrum at shortstop (though it didn’t take an injury to get them there). As of now, it appears Boston will beat its head against the wall with veterans going nowhere, while Philadelphia will try the option with the most upside. For that the Phils are to be commended, but it doesn’t change the urgency of the immediate situation.
Philadelphia has World Series aspirations, but sans Utley, they’re worse off at second base than any team in the NL East. Here’s the rundown on who the four division rivals will trot out…
Atlanta: Dan Uggla—After an absolutely atrocious start to the 2011 campaign, he got on a sustained hot streak during the summer and his power recovered to the tune of 36 home runs. The batting average remained in the pits at .233, but it seems safe to say that Uggla has returned to being an All-Star caliber hitter.
Washington: Danny Espinosa—He’s only 24 years old and hit 21 home runs a year ago. The consistency in getting base hits and drawing walks needs to improve, but the organization feels there are some holes in Espinosa’s swing that can be fixed and will address that. Given his young age, it seems safe to give the Nats the benefit of the doubt in this judgment.
NY Mets: Daniel Murphy—He stepped up and swings a very good bat in a park that’s not at all friendly to hitters. Murphy ended the season with a .320 average and respectable power to the alleys.
Miami: Omar Infante—His offense dropped off sharply last year, but if he gets his OBP back up to the .350 range, Miami has a solid, undervalued asset on their hands.
If Utley really just misses a short period of time and comes back, then all’s good in Philadelphia. But we do need to be realistic. Utley’s already missed time for two straight years with an assortment of injuries and his power and range have been in decline for a couple years. This is just one more example of why that proverbial window to win the World Series is closing rapidly in Philadelphia.