Does healthy Halladay make Phillies contenders?

Rich Schultz

Remember last year, when Roy Halladay hurt his shoulder and didn't look much like Roy Halladay?

It wasn't really his shoulder. It was really his lower back. Today in the Daily News:

Halladay said that after consulations with team trainers and doctors, he completely overhauled his usual offseason conditioning routine, focusing on more sport specific/dynamic movements that built strength and flexibility in his lower back and core.

The result?

"I feel as good now as I have any other spring training," Halladay said. "Last year, it wasn't as if I felt bad, it just never really clicked for me."

When a team finishes eight games out in the Wild Card standings, you really can't attribute that finish to a single player.

Except when you can.

The Phillies went 81-81 last season. The St. Louis Cardinals took the second wild card with 89 wins. In both 2010 and '11, Roy Halladay was roughly eight wins better than a replacement player. In 2012, Roy Halladay was roughly zero wins better than a replacement player. If Halladay's pitching well in the first half of the season, the Phillies are winning more games and they don't trade Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the end of July; in fact, instead of trading two starting outfielders, the Phillies might have traded for a useful player or two, to bolster their chances down the stretch.

Just one year ago, the Phillies were supposed to win ~93 games and the National League East. They failed to win because a) Halladay was ineffective, and b) Ryan Howard and Chase Utley were hurt for longer than anyone expected. If a and b hadn't happened, the Phillies are in the tournament. If just one of those things hadn't happened, the Phillies are fighting like hell for a spot in the last week of the season.

Which doesn't mean that everything's going to magically come together this season. Halladay certainly figures to pitch better, but it's not fair to expect a return to his 2010-2011 brilliance. Even after returning to the lineup last season, Howard didn't play well at all. Utley was better than Howard, but nothing like his old self, either.

If Halladay's healthy, he and Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels should ensure that the Phillies are competitive. But there are just so many question marks in the lineup -- not just Howard and Utley, but also Delmon Young and Michael Young and whoever's in left field today -- that it's impossible to say anything about the Phillies except they're old and have a shot if four or five guys bounce back from lousy seasons. Oh, and that the Phillies' time has probably passed.

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