PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Heading into Spring Training, there was little question as to which team was the favorite to win the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies, with their four aces and an offense capable of putting up huge numbers, were the obvious pick.
Now, as the calendar gets ready to turn to April, and the Phillies get set to open the regular season, injuries have left the team with plenty of questions.
The biggest – of course – surrounds All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.
Utley continues to be sidelined with patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia, and bone inflammation in his right knee. He has not played in a single spring game, and all signs point to a stint on the disabled list to start the season.
Wilson Valdez is expected to get the starting job at second base.
While his teammates conclude Grapefruit League play on Monday, Utley will field questions from reporters about his uncertain future.
Don’t expect too many answers.
Then there is the latest injury to Brad Lidge.
The Phillies closer has been shutdown with shoulder soreness, and he too is expected to begin the regular season on the DL.
Ryan Madson would be the likely candidate to fill the closer role in Lidge’s absence, but that still leaves a void at the backend of the bullpen.
Lidge, who seemed optimistic he’d be ready for mid-April return, will have an MRI on Tuesday to determine if there is any structural damage in his right shoulder.
Keep your fingers crossed.
Don’t overlook the recent injury to Placido Polanco.
The Phillies third baseman has played in just two games since hyperextending his left elbow, the same elbow that hampered Polanco last year and led to offseason surgery to remove bone spurs.
If his elbow becomes an issue again this season, it could create a big problem for the Phillies at both the top of their lineup and at the hot corner.
And let’s not forget about Domonic Brown’s broken right hand.
Coming into camp, Brown was the favorite to fill the hole in the Phillies’ lineup left by the departed Jayson Werth – but he will miss at least a couple of weeks in April after having surgery earlier this month.
Ben Francisco has had a solid spring — and in all likelihood will be the opening day right fielder.
It remains to be seen if he – or Brown for that matter — can carry the load as an everyday player for the Phillies.
Yes, the Phillies definitely have some injuries to deal with, and inevitably there will be more — but don’t push the panic button just yet.
This team has been through this before.
Last season, former MVP’s Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard each spent time on the disabled list.
Rollins played in just 88 games because of leg injuries, while Howard was slowed by a badly sprained ankle.
Polanco was there, too, with his sore elbow.
And remember, Utley missed 47 games last year after injuring his thumb sliding into second base.
Lidge and Madson each missed significant time in 2010, as well.
Lidge was sidelined for almost the entire first month of last season following offseason surgery on his right elbow — and then again a couple of weeks later for inflammation in that same elbow.
Just as Lidge was returning the first time, Madson found his way onto the 60-day DL after kicking a chair and breaking his toe.
All key injuries to key players.
Yet through it all, the Phillies answered the bell and still managed to finish the season with the best record in baseball.
Will they do it again?
On Friday, when the Phillies open their 2011 season at home against the Houston Astros, they’ll get the opportunity to start answering that question.
Reported by Dan Majka, CBS Philly