We read it in headlines. We see it in stories. And we hear it played over the public address system in stadiums and arenas while referees consult instant replay.
With the Phillies starting their season Thursday with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley on the disabled list, my mind turns to “The Waiting” as well. In addition to the song’s signature line, however, I keep thinking of two companion lines from that song.
Don’t let it kill you baby, don’t let it get to you.
(And, at the end of the song) Don’t let this go too far, don’t let it get to you.
My point is that this season can pass the Phillies by if they spend too much of it waiting for Howard and Utley to return. I’ve already heard numerous comments about the Phillies holding the fort until Howard and Utley return. If they can hang in there without Howard and Utley, the logic goes, then they’ll be a terrific team by the end of the season when this dynamic duo hits its stride.
Too much waiting, however, can “kill you baby,” at least in terms of winning the World Series. We don’t know how long it will be until Utley and Howard return. The team refuses to put a timetable on its stars’ returns.
We received some rare insight into internal projections, however, when manager Charlie Manuel said it would be awhile until he expected Utley to play, mentioning “the end of May” as a possibility. Howard isn’t even cleared to run at full speed right now. How long he’ll be out of the lineup is pure conjecture.
There also is a question concerning both players’ effectiveness once they return. Howard had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. This spring he barely got going before having additional surgery, or a procedure, if you prefer, for an infection that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. infamously told us was not a setback. Whenever Howard returns from the non-setback that may keep him off the field for several more months, there is no guarantee that his explosiveness will still be there.
Utley’s injury is of even greater concern. He didn’t have surgery to repair his chondromalacia, which is a deterioration of the meniscus cartilage under the kneecap. Last year Utley’s right knee was the problem. This year his left knee is giving him trouble. He’s not getting it fixed. He’s trying to better manage the condition through stretching and exercise.
There’s an even greater chance that Utley won’t be the same player he has been in the past. Will he be able to play every day? Will his swing still have the power that used to be generated from his lower body? The answer is we don’t know. Nobody does.
My fear is that the Phillies will subscribe to the theory that they can tread water until Howard and Utley return to rescue them later in the season. The key, as Petty sings, is “don’t let this go too far.”
In other words, at some point the Phillies may have to plan as if they’re not going to have a healthy Utley or healthy Howard – or both – all season. They can’t wait until it’s too late to address the problem with anything other than a Band-Aid solution. Or, to use a different analogy, what happens if the Phillies are treading water in the National League East, but the rescue boat never arrives?
If I were the Phillies, I would begin planning for a worst-case scenario rather than a best-case scenario. Assume that Utley and Howard won’t return as soon as is hoped. Assume they won’t come back at full capacity. Now what are you going to do?
I know the Phillies, regardless of the quality of their starting pitching, don’t want to go into the postseason with a starting lineup containing Freddy Galvis, Ty Wiggington and John Mayberry Jr. The Phillies should begin considering moves to make certain that doesn’t happen.
If May comes around and the Phillies still don’t have a timetable for the return of Utley and Howard, then they must make a move. They can’t continue going through the season worrying about when Utley or Howard is going to be able to play. If this becomes a season-long pattern, the Phillies will be in serious trouble.
Not only can the waiting be the hardest part, but it can kill your season, baby, if you let it go too far.