Even with the increased competition in the NL East this season, most speculated that the Philadelphia Phillies would at the very least challenge for their sixth straight division title. Injuries to key players such as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley raised concern among some, but most thought they would have more than enough pitching to get them back to the post season.

Fast forward almost three months and one Roy Halladay injury—or should I say mechanical replacement—and the Phillies find themselves near the bottom of an extremely competitive NL East with a 34-38 record, eight-and-a-half games behind the Washington Nationals. They haven’t been as bad offensively as you might think, sitting sixth in the NL in runs scored with a middle-of-the-pack .266/.319/.407 team slash line, but their pitching that hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations heaped upon them. Currently, Philadelphia sits ninth in the NL in runs allowed and 14th in home runs allowed. Outside of Jonathan Papelbon, the bullpen has been disastrous and starters like Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton have simply not been getting the job done in the absence of Halladay.

Some help appears to be on the way, however as it’s expected that All-Star second baseman Chase Utley could be activated from the disabled list in time for Wednesday’s game against Pittsburgh. Utley has finished his rehab assignment in Clearwater where he went 5-for-32 (.156) with one home run and will now head to AAA-Lehigh Valley for one final tune up game before rejoining the big club.

Utley, who has had trouble keeping his arthritic knees healthy over the past few seasons, will be a major offensive upgrade over what the Phillies have been playing at second so far this season. Phillies’ two-baggers (an uninspiring quartet consisting of Freddy Galvis, Mike Fontenot, Pete Orr and Michael Martinez) have combined for a shitbagular .278 wOBA and five home runs in 2012. Utley will certainly be an improvement even if he’s a mere shell of his former self. When he was on the field last season, the 33-year-old Utley wasn’t as good as he had been in previous years, but was still very productive amassing a 116 wRC+ in 454 plate appearances.

Still, the biggest problem for the Phillies this season has been their depth. Talent still exists on the team, but Ruben Amaro Jr. and company have failed thus far to fill out their roster with adequate replacement players when inevitable injuries to their aging core have occurred. Eventually, ailing first baseman Ryan Howard will be back and although he’s vastly overrated and overpaid, he’s still a solid offensive player who is a massive upgrade over the likes of Ty Wigginton and Hector Luna. Halladay will also be back and Cliff Lee will eventually start pitching to his unbelievable peripherals. They are by no means totally dead in the water, but Amaro will need to be diligent in upgrading his bullpen and maybe grabbing a few bench players who can provide more value than the sack of below-replacement fringe players they currently employ.

With a win-now core of players that are locked up for the long haul, rebuilding scarcely seems like an option for Philadelphia who simply have too many cumbersome contracts to restock an ailing farm system through trades. The only thing Amaro and company can do, at least for the time being, is try and add to what they have.

Utley—provided he can stay healthy and play nearly every day—should help them, but their needs go much deeper than just him.

And the Rest:

In his Sunday column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says that trade talks for Cubs righthander Matt Garza are intensifying with as many as six teams showing serious interest—the Braves, Tigers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Royals. Garza will earn $9.5-million this season and will be entering his final arbitration year this offseason so any team acquiring him will accrue his services for more than just two months. The 28-year-old has a 4.07 ERA in 13 starts so far this year, but has a solid 3.51 xFIP and is coming off of a five win season in 2011 according to FanGraphs.

Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey apparently suffered a setback during his bullpen session on Friday [Peter Abraham, Boston Globe]. Bailey is currently rehabbing from a thumb injury he sustained during a cover play at first base during Spring Training, but apparently his thumb was not the issue during the bullpen session. Although Ryan Sweeney, who was acquired along with Bailey in a trade with Oakland this winter, has been a pleasant surprise for Boston, Josh Reddick—who went the other way in the deal—has been one of the most productive outfielders in the AL this season sitting seventh among them with a 142 wRC+. If Bailey can’t get healthy, that trade could look really bad for a long time.

More bad news for the Red Sox as righthander Clay Buchholz has been hospitalized and placed on the DL with intestinal bleeding [Ben Buchanan, Over the Monster].

Cubs first base prospect Anthony Rizzo could be called up to the Big Leagues as early as Tuesday against the Mets [Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune]. Plan the parade, Cubs fans.

Has R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball been as dominant as Mariano Rivera’s cutter? [Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information].

Jay Jaffe continues his Hate List for Baseball Prospectus. He’s here to tell you why he hates the Cincinnati Reds and The Angels Angels of Angels.

If he keeps playing this well, what are the chances that Mike Trout could win the AL MVP? [Jesse Sakstrup, Hardball Times].

For ESPN Insiders, Keith Law tells you who you should watch at the Futures Game next month in Kansas City.

Tom Verducci asks where the real Hanley Ramirez is hiding.

And finally, Jim Thome’s recent spate of success has him thinking one more year [Jim Salisbury, CSN Philly].

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