Say what you want about his mammoth contract, but it’s tough to replace 35-45 home runs per year from Howard. Meanwhile, Utley is one of the smartest ballplayers in the game, a scrappy player that gets on base, hits for power, fields his position, and runs well.
The Phillies have played a combination of Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome at first base, and Freddy Galvis has been the regular at second base. Wigginton is hitting just .214 in 14 at-bats, Thome is a disappointing 1-for-9 with four strikeouts, and Galvis is hitting .222 in 27 at-bats.
Howard has had his regular slumps himself, and we all know he strikes out too much and struggles to hit lefties. He has also seen a sharp decline in his home runs recently, which is alarming considering he is entering year one of a five-year, $125 million extension. But it’s difficult to replace him in the cleanup spot, and while the Phillies have simply dropped Hunter Pence down one spot in the lineup, that then leaves a gap in the third spot.
Jimmy Rollins isn’t a bad number three hitter by any stretch, but the Phillies are far better off with Rollins leading off, Shane Victorino hitting second, Utley third, and Howard fourth. That allows Pence to hit fifth, which protects Howard both from the three and five hole in the lineup. The Phillies struggled last year on offense, averaging just 4.40 runs per game. This year, they’re at a paltry 2.50 runs per game, and coming off an embarrassing 5-0 shutout to the New York Mets.
At this time last year, the Phillies were 9-3, two games up on the Florida Marlins in the NL East. The Phillies had scored 70 runs, an average of nearly six per game, and they had the third-highest scoring offense in the league. That was despite not having Utley early on, but this year, the loss of both Howard and Utley has been just too much to overcome.
Howard is expected to be back hopefully in a month to six weeks, and no really knows with Utley. But until they come back, the Phillies will really struggle to hit the ball, and this could easily end up costing the team when September and October rolls around.