Utley news is worrisome, but Phillies aren't done yet

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Before we predict the demise of the Phillies, let's remember that Chase Utley missed nearly two months of the 2011 season and they still won 102 games.

They still have that great starting rotation, with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. If anything, they're stronger at the end of games, with Jonathan Papelbon taking over for Ryan Madson.

The question to ask now, with the Phillies admitting to new concerns about Utley's right knee, isn't whether they're done. It's whether they are showing enough age to come back to the pack in the ever-more-competitive National League East.

The Phillies will begin the season with both Utley and Ryan Howard (Achilles tendon) on the disabled list. They weren't a deep team to start with, and they weren't a great offensive team last year (they scored fewer runs than both the Mets and Royals in 2011). And while they could theoretically trade for someone to fill in for Utley at second base, they tried to do that last year and weren't able to find a fit.

They're also an old team. Hunter Pence, who turns 29 in April, was their youngest everyday player last year.

Scouts following spring training have already been talking about the Phillies' vulnerabilities. Depth is a problem. Their middle relief isn't strong.

The division, with the Nationals and Marlins both improving, has become maybe the most competitive in the game.

Just remember, the Phillies had many of the same concerns last spring. In some ways, they had more concerns last spring, because when Brad Lidge got hurt, they weren't even sure who their closer would be.

Then they went out and won the division by 13 games.

The Phillies have issues, and if Utley can't play for an extended period, that'll hurt. But as long as Halladay, Lee and Hamels are starting three out of every five days, it's a little early to predict their demise.

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