The boys (of summer) are back again!

In the Bat­ter's Box - this week, former Star sports colum­nist Matt God­frey of­fers his thoughts on the Phil­lies as base­ball sea­son re­turns.

Wel­come back, Phil­lies fans!

But brace yourselves, be­cause this sea­son is go­ing to be a bumpy one.

This year could be the most un­cer­tain in re­cent memory since this glor­i­ous run star­ted (I’m think­ing some­time in that glor­i­ous 2008 sea­son).

The biggest pos­it­ive this year is the health and ef­fect­ive­ness of the team’s start­ing ro­ta­tion.

Start­ing pitch­ers Roy Hal­laday, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels look to pick up where they left off last sea­son as three of the top pitch­ers in base­ball.

They’ll be joined by Vance Wor­ley — who is look­ing to avoid a sopho­more slump after a stel­lar rook­ie cam­paign — and Joe Blan­ton — who is look­ing to re­gain his pre-2011 form after suf­fer­ing arm prob­lems last sea­son.

That is es­sen­tially where the sim­il­ar­it­ies to last sea­son end, though.

The bull­pen has a few of the same faces, but re­lief pitch­ing is no­tori­ous for its up-and-down per­form­ance from year to year.

Closer Ry­an Mad­son no longer is on the roster, re­placed by former Bo­ston stop­per Jonath­an Pa­pel­bon.

Mad­son, who signed with the Cin­cin­nati Reds this off­season, will miss all of the 2012 sea­son be­cause of a torn el­bow lig­a­ment.

Seems like the Phil­lies dodged a bul­let there.

Brad Lidge and Danys Baez are also gone, re­placed by new­comer Chad Qualls, but the re­mainder of the bull­pen will most likely be names you already know — Kyle Kendrick, Mike Stutes, Ant­o­nio Bas­tardo and Jose Contreras.

There are a lot of ifs in­volved in this group, but if Stutes and Bas­tardo can rep­lic­ate last sea­son’s suc­cess, and if Contreras can re­bound from an in­jury-riddled 2011, then the Phil­lies’ pitch­ing could carry them far in­to the post-sea­son.

The biggest worry, however, is the patch­work that man­ager Charlie Manuel is go­ing to have to do for at least a few weeks to cov­er the glar­ing ab­sences of both second base­man Chase Ut­ley and first base­man Ry­an Howard from his start­ing lineup.

Howard is of­fi­cially lis­ted as “day-to-day” but is still re­cov­er­ing from Achilles sur­gery this off­season, and many be­lieve he will miss at least the first two months of the sea­son.

Ut­ley is of­fi­cially lis­ted as “out in­def­in­itely.” He could miss a sim­il­ar amount of time this year as he did last year (46 games) to start the sea­son.

The team will also be without primary backup Mi­chael Mar­tinez for six to eight weeks; he broke a bone in his foot dur­ing spring train­ing.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, be­cause the oth­er half of the Phil­lies in­field is seem­ingly healthy.

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins and third-base­man Pla­cido Po­lanco will most likely be joined on open­ing day by rook­ie Freddy Galvis at second and re­turn­ing vet­er­an Jim Thome at first.

Thome will most likely split play­ing time with John May­berry Jr. and Ty Wig­gin­ton, who signed with the Phil­lies this off­season.

May­berry should also see some time in left­field along with vet­er­ans Laynce Nix and Juan Pierre.

Shane Vic­torino and Hunter Pence will be in cen­ter and right-field, re­spect­ively, with Car­los Ruiz re­turn­ing be­hind home plate.

Not hav­ing a des­ig­nated start­ing left­field­er or miss­ing the whole right side of your in­field could be huge is­sues and de­rail the Phil­lies’ run of suc­cess.

But keep in mind that the sea­son is a mara­thon. Galvis is the only rook­ie that is be­ing asked to fill a void.

Wig­gin­ton, Nix, Thome and Pierre have all been at it for a while.

We will know the out­come in a mere six months but from now, but with no games in the books just yet, it seems like this sea­son is more like the pre-2008 cam­paign than any of the oth­ers since that cham­pi­on­ship sea­son. ••

Matt God­frey, former Phil­lies colum­nist for the Star, of­fers this pre­view of the team’s new sea­son.

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