Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 3/20/12

Have you already penciled the Phillies in atop your projected NL East standings? Well, you might want to find an eraser.

Ryan Howard is going to miss the first two months of the season while recovering from the Achilles injury he suffered last October, and it now appears that Chase Utley will be joining him on the disabled list with recurring knee woes. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels should hold down their end of the fort, but questions about the Phillies’ offense are looming rather large as the season approaches.

The probable replacement for Utley is 22-year-old minor leaguer Freddy Galvis, who hit .278/.324/.392 while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Though he may one day develop into a respectable hitter, Galvis is currently an all-pick, no-stick player, offering little pop and even less plate discipline. He should adequately supplant Utley’s glove, but he won’t be batting in the middle of Charlie Manuel’s order any time soon.

With their first and second basemen shelved, the Phillies badly need third baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Jimmy Rollins to stay healthy. Unfortunately, both have required at least one disabled list stint in each of the past two seasons. At 36 and 33, respectively, Polanco and Rollins figure to need 15-20 games off, even if they are able to dodge the injury bug.

All of that means more playing time for Galvis, Michael Martinez, and Ty Wigginton—a trio fans would much rather see at Coca-Cola Park than Citizens Bank Park. And this is the team the Philadelphia Inquirer two weeks ago called “the unquestioned favorite?” Not anymore.

As of yesterday, PECOTA was projecting a tie between the Phillies and Braves at 88-74, with the Marlins nipping at their heels, and the Nationals five games back. Age is dragging the Phillies down, while youth is simultaneously fueling their rivals’ surges, perhaps a year earlier than expected.

The longer Howard and Utley sit, the bleaker the Phillies’ outlook will become. PECOTA sees remarkable parity in the top half of the senior circuit, so a win or two could be the difference between the league’s top playoff seed and a chance to dust off the golf clubs before winter hits. A setback here and a slow start there could leave the “unquestioned favorite” watching the postseason from home. 

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