For the Philadelphia Phillies to compete for a playoff spot this year, they needed their big bats — Ryan Howard and Chase Utley — to stay relatively healthy throughout the season.
Utley has already served time on the disabled list with an oblique strain earlier this season. But now Philadelphia will be without Howard due to a torn meniscus in his left knee. As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb, the injury is expected to keep the first baseman out for four to six weeks. That timeline would have him back in the Phillies' lineup by late August or early September, if everything goes according to plan.
But where will Philadelphia be in the NL playoff race by then? The team was already on the fringes of contention with a 43-46 record. That leaves the Phillies 7.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East and wild-card standings as of July 8.
The Phillies were already without their ace starting pitcher, with Roy Halladay out for the season following shoulder surgery. Setup reliever Mike Adams is also done for the year with three tears in his pitching shoulder.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did little to augment the Phillies lineup around Howard and Utley. One trade acquistion, center fielder Ben Revere, has overcome a bad April and boosted his on-base percentage to .331. But he offers no power. His job is to get on base for the run producers. Third baseman Michael Young was another addition, and he's rebounded from a poor 2012 with a .284 average and .748 OPS. But he's not a middle-of-the-order slugger.
Amaro has been somewhat bailed out by the emergence of Domonic Brown as an All-Star hitter. He leads the Phillies with 92 hits, 23 homers, 62 RBI and an .885 OPS. But with Howard sidelined, Brown is the only real power threat in Philadelphia's lineup.
However, it should be pointed out that Howard hasn't exactly been an imposing slugger this season. His 11 home runs are tied for second on the team with Utley, despite 68 more plate appearances. His current .465 slugging percentage is better than it was last year. But if that mark holds up, it will be the second-lowest of his career — as will his .784 OPS. Yet Howard did appear to be picking up his production. In June, he posted a .371 on-base percentage and .883 OPS.
The biggest concern is that this is Howard's second major leg injury during the past two years. In October 2011, as you might remember, he ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left foot. Interestingly, Howard returned from that injury at this point in the season last year. Gelb reports that Howard's knee has been bothering him for a while, at least going back to May when he took a cortisone injection. Additionally, he's been complaining of pain in his left foot.
Is this a good time to mention that Howard is owed at least $85 million on the final three years of his contract after this season? (In 2017, he'll receive a $10 million buyout if the Phillies don't pick up his $23 million club option.) OK, probably not.