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Bob Ford: Not time yet to say this is not Phils' year

The easy assumption at the moment, and perhaps the right one, is that this is not the year for the Phillies. It is merely the year after.

The easy assumption at the moment, and perhaps the right one, is that this is not the year for the Phillies. It is merely the year after.

When Brett Myers left the mound last week with an inflamed hip and a swollen earned-run average, the Phils found themselves reduced to one reliable starter, which seems like a tough way to play major-league baseball.

The loss of Myers leaves the Phillies with limited options if they don't acquire a pitcher from another organization. The list of available candidates is already thinned by the demotion of Chan Ho Park and the insertion of J.A. Happ into the rotation.

In the short term, they could have returned Park to a starter's role and hope the break did him some good. But he turns 36 this month, has thrown nearly 2,000 innings in the big leagues, and there was nothing in his seven starts to inspire much optimism that good days are still ahead. They have indicated that the plug in the rotation will come from the minor leagues, with Kyle Kendrick the likeliest replacement, but that is chewing gum where mortar is required.

This is a difficult situation, and another reminder for those who see it this way, that 2009 is not going to be a happy replay of 2008. It is also worth remembering, however, that 2008 didn't always look as if it would end in a parade.

At this time a year ago, the Phils had just embarked on a hot streak that carried them for a while, but up until the final week of May, the team was just a few games over .500 and full of question marks. Their largest division lead of the season topped out at four games on June 14 and it was a struggle the rest of the way. The Phils didn't move into first place for good until Sept. 20.

The season started with Brad Lidge just coming off the disabled list and before May was over Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and Jimmy Rollins had been placed on the DL. Chase Utley went through a two-week stretch in May during which he hit .140, and that was the first inkling that his hip, which would bother him all season, was a problem.

Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz were drags on the batting order, on the way to hitting .249 and .219, respectively, with little power. Outfielder Geoff Jenkins was turning out to be a terrible disappointment at the plate and in the field.

On top of all that, Myers, the opening day starter, accepted an assignment to the minor leagues after starting the season with a 3-9 record and a 5.84 ERA. Tom Gordon, who had been a big part of the bullpen, went on the DL never to return. Kendrick was struggling through a season in which his ERA, which was 3.87 in his rookie year, would balloon to 5.49. And then there was Adam Eaton.

So, it wasn't as if nothing went wrong for the Phillies last season. It was just that enough things went right to overcome the myriad of things that did go wrong. Then they got hot in the postseason and the rest was confetti.

Plenty is going right this season as well, and it just remains to be seen if it is enough to overcome the downturns, particularly in the rotation. Some of that will depend on the moves made by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., but some of it is simply in the hands of the baseball gods.

Entering the weekend, the Phils led the National League in home runs and slugging percentage and were second in runs scored and fourth in on-base percentage. They have needed every bit of that to build a winning record in spite of their pitching.

Only five teams in the NL - Arizona, Houston, Florida, Colorado and Washington - have allowed more than a hit an inning this season. That's the two worst teams in the Eastern Division, the worst in the Central and the two worst in the West . . . and the Phillies. Those other teams were a combined 49 games under .500 entering the weekend, while the Phils are swinging from the heels and hanging around first place.

Can that last all season? No, but it probably won't have to. The Phillies are going to pitch better, if only because they can't pitch any worse.

The pitching will have to improve because, for one thing, Raul Ibanez, on a pace to hit around 60 home runs, will have trouble staying this hot. It would be nice, but it's unlikely. Ibanez hit just 23 for Seattle last season, and before you start yelling about the differences in the ballparks, note that only nine of those came on the road and, this season, he has hit more of his homers away from Citizens Bank Park.

On the other hand, the Phils are getting much better production from Feliz and Ruiz this season - among the things going right - and their lineup is solid from top to bottom. Utley recovered fully from his hip surgery and, if everyone stays healthy, they're going to score a lot of runs. Rollins is still scuffling along, but he has hit 20 points higher throughout his career after the all-star break, so he'll probably come around, too.

Losing Myers is bad. There's no question about it. But it's not as bad as having Adam Eaton. The Phils survived that in 2008 and a lot more. They can get through this and still have a year and not just a year after.

That might not be the way to bet, but it is the way to think.