COMMENTARY | At this writing, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is scheduled for an MRI examination this afternoon after experiencing discomfort in his rib cage area during batting practice in Miami Tuesday night. There's some speculation the injury could land him on the disabled list.
This report comes after MRIs were performed in first baseman Ryan Howard's knee and catcher Carlos Ruiz's hamstring on Monday. Howard responded well to a cortisone injection administered Sunday and drove in three runs to spark a Phillies' victory Tuesday. Ruiz did go on the DL Monday.
Now this is baseball and these things happen to all players over the course of 162 games. They are the reasons teams are careful to stock their rosters with good utility players who can make a difference in a regular's absence. On the surface, this news should not cause any alarm.
Only with these particular Phillies, it does.
It's becoming more and more apparent that this will be the last roundup for the core group of Phillies we've watched perform together for most of this century - Howard, Ruiz, Utley, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and pitcher Cole Hamels. We'll add Kyle Kendrick to that list as well as he's the only other holdover from the first of five National League East division champions in 2007. They were world champions in 2008 and have endeared themselves individually to Philadelphia forever.
But the injury bug has been especially cruel to Howard, Ruiz and Utley in recent years. Howard and Utley have missed major portions of seasons. This is the fifth straight season Ruiz's name has been in the DL. He had already missed 25 games in 2013 after being suspended for using a banned substance.
Maybe calling the Phillies an aging team that is crumbling at its foundation before our very eyes is an overstatement. But it certainly feels that way.
There probably aren't many fervent Phillies fans around who don't know Utley and Ruiz are in the final years of their contracts. Given the economics of the game and the dire need for this team to get younger, it would be almost impossible to justify bringing them back in 2014, as it would pitcher Roy Halladay, who is also in his contract year and may miss the rest of the season following shoulder surgery.
Given what they have meant to this franchise, how could the Phillies possibly justify offering them meager contracts compared to their current rate of pay? They may have been able to move Utley before the July 31 trading deadline prior to this setback, as he was having a decent season. If he goes on the DL, he'll probably remain on the roster the rest of the way.
The keys to this season have been Howard, Utley and Halladay returning to some semblance of their best days, and Ruiz returning to last year's form. We've seen flashes of it, nothing remotely consistent. The Phillies remain in the NL East hunt because no team - Atlanta and Washington primarily - has taken charge of the division to date. The law of averages would indicate some team will go on a tear eventually. The Phillies haven't shown the firepower to fuel any speculation that it might be them.
Of course, the beauty of baseball is anything can happen. Even though the Phillies have not played well, we do understand they have veteran players who know how to win. It's a matter of how much they've got left, what they can provide in crucial moments. Can Howard, Utley and Ruiz answer the bell enough for one more turn at glory this year? Can Halladay come back in September and show his Cy Young pedigree one last time?
Phillies followers can hope. Hope is what keeps them around throughout the season. But one by one, key parts from that wonderful 2007-11 run have been disappearing. More will be gone after this year.
Maybe we should just enjoy those that are left for as long as we can.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime Phillies follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards. He covered the 1980 World Series, the first championship in Phillies history.
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