No team has been more ravaged by the fragility of the human body than the Phillies this season. With the talent spread across their batting order and pitching rotation along with the winning pedigree they've displayed over the last half-decade, they should be neck-and-neck with the Dodgers for the NL's best record.
Having won the last five NL East titles in addition to the 2008 World Series title, Philadelphia has become a division dynast and in the off-season, they added Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. However, a flurry of injuries have downgraded the Phillies from World Series contenders into a last place team. Every day it becomes more and more apparent that the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies were destined to flop.
The Phillies downward swing began after the final swing of their2011 season when 2009 NL MVP Ryan Howard ruptured his left Achilles tendon after knocking a pitch into a ground out. His crumpled body juxtaposed against the Cardinals celebrating the series victory was an indelible image from last season.
Knee cartilage damage has also kept five-time All-Star second baseman Chase Utley out of the Phillies lineup since spring training and neither he nor Howard are expected back until June, at the earliest. 41-year old Jim Thome, who was expected to fill in at first base until Howard fully recuperated has been on the disabled list since April but was only halfway to the Mendoza Line with a .111 batting average.
The only bright spot for the Phillies has been future Cy Young winner, Cole Hamels, who's pitching from the mound, has been overshadowed by his five-game suspension for admitting to beaning Harper on purpose.
The Phillies other Cy Young winning ace, Cliff Lee has spent time on the disabled list and is 0-2 in six starts with a 2.82 ERA. His frustration finally boiled over when he and outfielder Shane Victorino confronted each other in the dugout on May 26 over an outfield error that ultimately gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
Conversely, 24-year old pitcher Vanimal, Vance Worley, has been on the disabled list for three months due to inflammation in his right elbow.
Our division's going to be very tight, Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel said before his team lost to the Mets at Citi Field on Tuesday night. That's why it's very important for us to kind of keep our head above water. We want to win all the games we possibly can, but we've got to stay alive.
That will be tougher than it sounds in a division that has seemingly been flipped upside down overnight.
The first place Washington Nationals have a stranglehold over the National League's second-best record and their pitching staff has the second-lowest ERA in the majors. Stephen Strasburg is throwing bullets and 19-year old phenom Bryce Harper has already begun his meteoric ascent up the major league hierarchy since getting plunked by Hamels in his eighth major league game (He's hitting .350 and blasted three homeruns over his last ten).
The Mets are in second place and David Wright is hitting .370 after a pair of seasons that saw him dip from a lifetime .300 contact hitter into a .283 and .254 groundball machine. 37-year old pitcher R.A. Dickey is in the midst of a career year and after spending the 2011 season rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder, Johan Santana has also returned to terrorizing opposing batters.
After baseball's winter hibernation, the once frugal Florida Marlins emerged with a shiny new uniform, stadium and a more localized identity as the Miami Marlins. They also added $58 million to their payroll for the 2012 season. The Atlanta Braves also have one of the best run-scoring offenses in the game while starting pitcher Brandon Beachy has Major League Baseball's lowest ERA.
The tide may have turned in the NL East but the Phillies haven't drowned yet. Through all the injuries, the Phillies remain just four games out of first place in the division. They just have to remain within striking distance until their wounds heal.