A month ago it was panic. People were breaking ankles jumping off the bandwagon and the general feeling in the city of Philadelphia was in shcok. Less then a year removed from the World Series, the Phillies were favored to return to the October Classic especially after acquiring arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay. The Phillies were in a month long slump that saw them go 7 games back of the division behind both the Braves and the Mets. A month ago everything was going wrong. A month ago the Phillies were no longer the "Phightin Phils" but instead were the "walking wounded." The Phillies have not played with their opening day lineup since May and it wasn't getting any better with starters dropping like flies.
Polanco missed time with an elbow issue. That same issue will cause him to have surgery in the offseason. Carlos Ruiz missed time with a concusion and Ryan Howard missed time with a bruised ligament in his ankle. Jimmy Rollins a calf strain, Chase Utley had finger surgery, Shane Victorino missed time thanks to an oblique injury. Joe Blanton missed time to an oblique as well, and both J.A. Happ and Jamie Moyer missed/are missing time with a pronator flexor problem. Even the bench players got into the action with both Ross Gload and Brian Schnieder battling injuries this season. But through all of that it appears that the storm may be over, as light is shining through the clouds.
Saturday Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was activated from the 15 day DL earlier then expected. On Friday he went 1-2 with a walk in a rehab assignment in Class A Lakewood and the general concensus was he would have another rehab start in AAA Lehigh Valley on Saturday and could possibly be back on Sunday. No one ever mentioned Saturday but Howard defied the odds and will be manning the helm against a rookie phenom. It's amazing to think about the Phillies this season and realize how much they have overcome. Both Utley and Howard have come back sooner then expected, and just in time for the September stretch. The Phillies sit just 2.5 games back of the division leading Braves, and are leading the wild card by 1 game. Amazing to think about if you've followed this team this year.
As the team takes the field on Saturday, I will be thinking of all the people that deserve credit for this 2010 Phillies team battling through injuries to be right there, neck and neck with the Braves. Many have given Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel credit and deservingly so. But when I think about who deserves the most two people come to mind The first is Phillies general Manager Ruben Amaro. Criticized in the off season for trading away Cliff Lee no one seemed to notice the otherr minor moves he made. Wilson Valdez and Cody Ransom have each played a crucial part for this team, filling in for injured players and providing decent offense at that. It was certainly something Phillies fans were not used to because in years past the bench has been less then disirable. Guys like Paul Hoover and David Herndon haven't produced like All Stars but certinaly outperformed expectations. Ross Gload signed a two year deal and has earned his money off the bench this season. Placed on the DL to make room for Howard, he too has come up big in key situations. Ruben Amaro has definitely earned his money this year. The minor moves he has made have paid off and paid off in a huge way. We were told that the bench was better this year, much better then in years past, and Amaro was right.
The other person I contribute to the success of the Phillies this season is their head trainer, Scott Sheridan. Many people will overlook Sheridan and jump right to the role players and coaches but Sheridan has played a crucial part in the recovery process of all the injured Phillies. We have learned in years past that Chase Utley is not a man, but more so a machine who is able to come back from injury at a remarkably fast rate. The training staff has gotten these players back, and with the exception to Rollins, kept the DL visits to one per player. When these guys come off the DL, they stay off. Polanco has at times dealt with a sore elbow but for the most part Sheridan and his staff have done a great job at rehabbing these players and getting them back to Citizens Bank Park as fast as possible.
The injures that I previously listed may end up ultimately helping the Phillies in the long run. Their plight could end up being a saving grace Charlie Manuel has a philosophy that you play your starters and because of that some players end up being fatigued. Chase Utley is a prime example of a player who has experienced fatigue late in the season. Because of their time on the DL however, players such as Utley, Howard, and Victorino should be fully rested for the stretch run. A healthy lineup going into the post season is crucial with a healthy yet rested team being like a cherry on top. The Phillies are headed down the stretch run with their team finally healthy. A team that Phillies fans salivated at the thought of back in January and February will be on the field in South Philadelphia. The rest of the division better watch out because this team has one mission, and that's to make up for lost time.