The Philadelphia Phillies are hovering around .500 so far this season, last place in the N.L. East which is MLB's best division. They have actually stayed afloat quite well, though, considering their two best position players have yet to play a game this season.
Both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley remain out of the lineup, but both players are reportedly taking live practice as of this week. Utley is with the team in St. Louis and is not only hitting balls, but fielding them too. Utley, however, remains limited in his field work because of his chronic knee problems. He actually fielded some from left field, but manager Charlie Manuel said not to read into it.
Howard participated in a simulated game earlier in the week in Florida, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He took live batting practice against pitchers in the team's extended spring training program.
There is no timetable for either players' return, still the biggest issue facing the Phillies and their future, but both players have reached milestones of late and continue to progress.
The longer the Phillies' best players are absent, the better chance the Nationals and the division's other teams have to supplant the defending champs. How long Utley and Howard stay out could be the biggest determinant in what happens moving forward in the N.L. East this season.