Chase Utley is headed back to Clearwater. He’ll make the same trek he made this February, but hopefully this time he’ll actually get some work done. Utley will break from the Phillies major league team and head to the spring training complex to intensify his workouts. The load will eventually include simulated games, extended spring training games, and then ideally some action for the Clearwater Threshers. There is still no time-table on Utley’s return, but we can actually see the progress, which is reassuring. As much as we love Pete Orr and Wilson Valdez’s well-intentioned facial hair, Utley at even less than 100% is a serious upgrade. I imagine barring a setback and if the Phillies can keep Chase from pushing things too hard it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him back with the big club by the end of the month.
Even if Chase hits that optimistic date, he won’t be around for one of the more difficult stretches of the schedule. The Phils have beaten up on their share of bad teams to this point. San Diego, New York, and Washington (although the Nats are 13-12 in games not against the Phils) have all offered the Phils plenty of wins and series victories. The Phils are 13-3 against those teams and 8-6 the rest of the way. I think it is a good formula for winning. Total domination of the lesser squads and keep your head above .500 against everyone else. The schedule is cyclical, though, and the bottom feeders are gone for the rest of this month. The next 20 are against Atlanta, Florida, Cincy, Texas, Colorado and St. Louis. Every single one of those teams has a winning record.
What do we want to set as a goal against these teams? Is 11-9 the number? The Phils current pace would dictate 14-6. How about anything over .500? It’s hard to imagine the Phillies would lose much ground with that record. The Braves are coming on very strong, but I think most people are expecting the Fish to come back to Earth a little bit. Is this going to be a 3-team race, or will the Phils and Braves separate themselves? The Phils get 12 of the 20 games at home, and they’ve certainly had no trouble beating Florida and Cincinnati in the past. Those teams account for exactly 1/2 the games. The Rangers series here in Philly should be one of the best and most anticipated of the year. With no changes to the rotation, the Phils would line up Blanton/Worley, Halladay and Lee against Texas.
There should be plenty of good pitching match-ups along the way. It starts tonight with Lee against Lowe, and then on Tuesday the Phillies get the pleasure of Josh Johnson. Roy Halladay will get the call in a rematch from his perfect game last season. And, Roy Oswalt is scheduled to make his return tomorrow against Jair Jurrgens who has puzzled the Phillies for most of his brief career. Oswalt will be watched closely following a lay-off and a suspicious start in Arizona.
If the Flyers really are done, it’s a great time to become fully immersed in the Phillies. This is probably the best stretch of action you’ll see until the pennant race really heats up later in the year.
Dom Brown AAA Update: Brown is 5 of 13 with a double in the early going for a .385 average.