Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look Out Braves, Phillies Gettin' Healthy

The Phillies activated Shane 'the Flyin Hawaiian' Victorino today from the 15-day DL, optioning lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo back to AAA Lehigh Valley. It's a good news-bad news deal for the Phils, who really could use that 2nd lefty out of the pen to complement J.C. Romero. Bastardo has done well in his opportunities, has a nice arm, and will undoubtedly be back no later than September 1st for the stretch run. His demotion is the bad news.

The good news is that Victorino is back. He will be ready to go tonight vs. the Dodgers, though it is unclear as to whether Charlie Manuel will have him back in the starting lineup right away. I can't see why he wouldn't be manning centerfield and hitting either leadoff or in the #6 slot, however, because he proved in a pair of pretty strong rehab outings the last two nights that he was just fine.

Shane's return to the club continues the Phillies' return to overall health. Primary setup reliever Ryan Madson returned in early July after missing two months of the season. Starting shortstop Jimmy Rollins returned in mid-June and is still working his way back to full health after missing nearly two months worth of the season. Starting 3rd baseman Placido Polanco returned in mid-July after missing over three weeks, and starting catcher Carlos Ruiz returned in mid-July after missing nearly a month.

With the return of Victorino and his 15 homers and 20 steals production to the lineup, the Phillies have just two more big pieces left before they can call themselves truly, fully healthy. Those two missing pieces may be the two biggest pieces, and when they return it will be akin to the club signing two major free agents and adding them to the lineup.

Starting 1st baseman and cleanup hitter Ryan Howard has missed the last ten days with a sprained ankle, and he will likely be out another week. Starting 2nd baseman and #3-hole hitter Chase Utley has missed a month and a half, and was just cleared to begin hitting again. He is due to return in about two weeks.

Somehow through all of these injuries (none of this has even mentioned the loss for the season, possibly his career, of veteran lefty Jamie Moyer) the Phillies have managed to fight back into the East Division race and the NL Wildcard race. The club currently stands just 2 1/2 games back of the Braves in the division, and Atlanta is just now learning that it has lost veteran 3rd baseman and leader Chipper Jones for the season due to injury.

With the trade deadline acquisition of righthander Roy Oswalt from Houston, the Phillies rotation big three of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Oswalt should make them virtually slump-proof for the rest of the season, no matter what the offense does. But that offense should now begin to get significantly better with the return of the starting lineup. Not only will that everyday lineup be better, but the bench will then be deeper and even more ready with everyone having received increased playing time.

It looks like the Atlanta Braves and the rest of the National League are going to have a healthy and confident defending champion stomping around in September. The fans who have continued to fill Citizens Bank Park all summer long and kept the carnival atmosphere around the team going strong through the dog days should finally be rewarded as the season rolls into it's most exciting final few weeks.

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