Raising Questions

What if … Howard and Utley are healthy in 2012?

As we simulate seasons and look back at the past this week, we figured this would be a good time to ask ‘What if?’ So each Phillies Nation writer is posing a what-if question this week.

Today, it’s Corey Sharp and erasing injuries …

The beginning of the end for the Phils occurred on Oct 7, 2011. Chris Carpenter finished off a masterpiece at Citizens Bank Park to clinch the National League Division Series, and ultimately, sunk the golden era. Ryan Howard, who didn’t leave the field with the bat on his shoulder, instead left with two men carrying him off. It was a painful way – literally for Howard and figuratively for everyone else – to end what was the best five-year period in 134 years of Phillies baseball.

As it was later reported, Howard ruptured his achilles, inevitably delaying his 2012 start. So it wasn’t news when Howard was going to miss, at minimum, half the season. What was news however, for the second consecutive season, was Chase Utley’s knees weren’t right. Both knees were giving him issues in spring training, forcing him to shut it down until late June. Howard followed suit, making his season debut July 6.

Without Utley and Howard for much of the first half, the Phils limped into the all-star break at 37-50. In the basement of the NL East at 14 games back, and 10 back of the new second wild card, it was all but over.

However, if you really knew the Phils, you knew they were going to make their run. Howard, Utley and Co. had to too much pride to let things unravel. And they did just that.

Coming out of the break, the Phils won their first eight of 12 games, including three thrilling, final at-bat wins against the Milwaukee Brewers. But the Phils experienced a let down in Atlanta the following series, on the short end of a sweep.

The sweep in Atlanta signaled the end for Shane Victorino, as he was traded to the Dodgers, and Hunter Pence, who was traded to the Giants. The Phils threw in the towel for the 2012 season. At the deadline, they were 13 games back of the second wild card, a deficit that looked insurmountable.

But once again, it didn’t stop them.

Behind the efforts of the usual crew – Utley, Howard, Rollins, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels – the Phils cut the deficit to eight games by Sept 1. The emergence of Kyle Kendrick was also a huge shot in the arm, as he posted a 2.87 ERA in the second half. A vintage seven-game win streak, that lead to sweeps of the Rockies and Marlins, catapulted the Phils within just three games of the second wild card with 19 games to go. The Phils have seen much worse than that.

That’s as close as they came, as we know, but the core group sure kept it interesting in September. That leads to the question: What if Utley and Howard don’t get hurt? That question then paves the way for several more unanswered questions. Do the Phillies trade Victorino and Pence? Do they go out and get someone? Is 2012 the last World Series run if Utley and Howard don’t get hurt?

Unfortunately, we’ll never know, but that first question has hung over my head since 2012.

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