The Phillies have the oldest roster in the National League when it comes to position players, and we have seen the problems that arise from relying on older players. As documented here several times, they have lost a lot of production and money as their players have taken turns on the disabled list. That tune hasn’t changed in 2012 as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard both missed significant portions of the first half, while Roy Halladay, Freddy Galvis, Laynce Nix and others joined them on the sideline at various points throughout the season.
Despite winning their third consecutive game last night against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies are virtually out of playoff contention in last place, 13 games behind the first place Washington Nationals and 10.5 games behind the second wild card-leading Pittsburgh Pirates. GM Ruben Amaro will go into the July 31 trading deadline with the mindset of a seller, looking to get something in return for soon-to-be free agents Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, and Cole Hamels (if he can’t be signed to a contract extension).
The Phillies should be realistic about their playoff hopes for this season and utilize their players accordingly. Last night, Blanton came back out for the eighth inning even though he was just under 100 pitches. It’s generally not a big deal, but Blanton has already drawn interest from some teams like the Baltimore Orioles. Winning last night’s game doesn’t mean anything for the Phillies and there is a non-zero chance he gets injured again. Why risk spinning the wheel and landing on “bankrupt” with any of the players you’re looking to sell? This isn’t advocating disuse of those players, as they still need to compete and continuously establish their value, but the Phillies should err on the side of caution.
Similarly, the Phillies should take it easy with players that they aren’t likely to move as well. Carlos Ruiz will start again tonight, marking the 13th consecutive game in which he has started behind home plate. His previous high was six consecutive starts between June 17 and 24, and in 2011, he started nine consecutive games between April 10 and 20. Brian Schneider is currently on the disabled list and the Phillies are currently using Minor League veteran Erik Kratz as the back-up catcher. Yes, the Phillies stand to win more games with Ruiz in the lineup, but wins aren’t all that important anymore. There is a non-zero chance that Ruiz suffers an injury that can either knock him out for a significant amount of time next year (like Howard) or linger, reducing his effectiveness and durability over time (like Jimmy Rollins).
The safety concerns extend to Utley and Howard. The Phillies said they would be adhering to a “two on, one off” schedule for Utley, which they have stuck to so far. Likewise, it appears Howard will be getting rest more or less on every third day. However, there is reason to be skeptical that the Phillies will be disciplined and judicious in the use of their franchise players. Utley returned from his injury on May 23 last year. By the end of June, when the Phillies were 20 games over .500 with a comfortable division lead, they continued to lean on their second baseman. Between June 28 and August 3, Utley started at second base in each game, resting only on scheduled off-days for the team. He finally got a day off on August 4, then went on another streak, starting every game between the 5th and September 7.
Phillies games are not all that fun to watch these days and stand to be even less so when the lineup includes Mike Fontenot and John Mayberry instead of Utley and Howard, but it is important for both the 2012 and ’13 teams. They have to be realistic about their chances this season and do everything in their power to ensure they won’t be in a similar position going forward. They can do this by being extra careful with some of their more important players, simply by giving them more rest than would normally be warranted.