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Cole Hamels' return part of Philadelphia Phillies' spring story

Utley often begins a new baseball year with a bang.
Utley often begins a new baseball year with a bang.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Cole Hamels is scheduled to make his first start of the 2014 season this week against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The addition of a strong left-handed starter should bolster any major league rotation. Despite this positive news, the Philadelphia Phillies' spring story is still filled with reasonable doubt.

Ryne Sandberg has seen some progress in his team so far this season. This red pinstriped squad looks to be somewhat better than the gathered crowds Charlie Manuel was given during the last two years of his Phillies' managerial career. So, it's modestly realistic to believe that 'Ryno' can find a way to push this roster toward the 81-win respectability line by late-September.

When healthy, Chase Utley often begins a new baseball year with a bang. His career OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) numbers rank with the best in the game for the month of April. This season's monster start has been exciting and appears to indicate that his knees are still alive. But, that optimism is rightly guarded because he's a 35-year-old man.

Ryan Howard is in shape and appears to be regaining his timing. This work-in-progress will take time to develop. Of growing concern is the fact that his power stroke may have been permanently diminished through the Achilles tendon surgery. So, fans might need to accept who the 'Big Piece' can be right now, rather than expect a return to past results.

The remainder of the offense can once again be labeled with one word: inconsistent. There's no chance that a sporadic and often-times anemic lineup can ever win more than a handful of games in a row. A team simply can't become a real playoff contender without extended series winning streaks.

Rookie reliever Mario Hollands has been surprisingly sharp. A.J. Burnett looks good so far, even considering his hernia issue. Kyle Kendrick is producing another positive early-season effort. Basically, everyone else on the staff has been okay, or shaky. Along with the previously mentioned untrustworthy offense, that's not going to cut it long-term.

Defensively speaking, the Phillies .981 combined team fielding percentage ranks in the middle of the National League pack. Their glove work should continue to improve, based upon Sandberg's focus on responsibility, resulting consequences and a somewhat more flexible set of available fielding options than were accessible in recent years.

With only 11% of the regular season slate having been played thus far, the new season is basically mixed. The Phillies are far from great and they're also not definitive diamond goats. Yes, approximately .500 reads about right.