The Phillies lead Major League Baseball with a .714 winning percentage after three and a half weeks into the 2011 season.
The starting pitching has lived up to the hype and the bullpen is one of the most reliable in the National League.
Placido Polanco continues to swing a hot bat in April and Ryan Howard is second in the National League with 19 RBI.
In spite of all the success the Phillies had in the beginning of 2011, have fans ever seen a 15-6 team with so many issues? Charlie Manuel’s squad has a few problems they need to solve as the club heads into one of the toughest portions of the schedule in a few weeks.
1. Will Jimmy Rollins continue to bat third?
Rollins had early success hitting for average in the three-hole, but the overall results have been sub par.
J-Roll is batting .256 with no home runs and two RBI.
Brian Schneider, the backup catcher, has more RBI than Rollins through 21 games.
Rollins is failing to produce timely hits with runners on base and fails to give legitimate protection for Ryan Howard.
Manuel may not have to force Rollins out of the third spot if Chase Utley returns by mid-May.
2. Will Raul Ibanez be relegated to a platoon role?
Ibanez has not been the same player since his torrid start at the beginning of the 2009 season.
After hip surgery led to a slow start in 2010, Ibanez does not have that lingering over him in 2011.
Raul is hitting an abysmal .187 with one home run and 10 RBI. He continues to struggle with his timing at the plate.
Manuel most likely will continue to stick with his 11.5 million dollar man, who will become a free agent after this season. However, John Mayberry is showing he belongs in the major leagues.
Mayberry is batting .350 with no home runs and two RBI in only 20 at bats this season. He has an above average arm and his defense has vastly improved since his last stint with the Phillies.
Giving Raul some rest against lefties (.143 avg. against LHP) and playing Mayberry would balance the lineup with a power bat to protect Howard.
3. Who’s the closer?
Brad Lidge is out until the all-star break. Jose Contreras was recently placed on the 15-day DL with a strained flexor pronator tendon in his throwing elbow.
Now, Ryan Madson will get the opportunity to prove if he is the Phillies' closer the rest of this season and beyond.
Madson is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.00 and converted both his save opportunities this season. Contreras was dominant in the closer role before his injury with five saves, a 0.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in eight innings pitched.
All three of the players can close, but who will Charlie Manuel go to when Contreras comes off the DL? How about Brad Lidge?
This problem is a good one to have, but it has to be solved sometime this season.
4. Which bench player(s) will see more playing time as the season goes on?
The most likely candidates to see more playing time are John Mayberry and Pete Orr.
Orr has excellent base-running ability and is a solid contact hitter. He has a decent arm and a good glove in the infield.
Pete is hitting .333 with zero home runs and an RBI in just 21 at bats this season.
Mayberry can platoon with Ibanez, but also is the team’s top pinch hitter. He can also play first base and give Ryan Howard a well-deserved day off.
John can play either of the corner outfield positions, which allows him to make a spot start for Ben Francisco along with filling in for Ibanez.
Charlie Manuel has to find out if Mayberry can start for the Phillies in the future, so getting him more at bats will provide an answer.
5. Will the Phillies upcoming schedule be a speed bump?
The Phillies have a tough May ahead of them.
After the Nationals series ends on May 5, Philadelphia plays seven consecutive series against teams that finished over .500 in 2010.
Two of those series are against the Braves and their excellent pitching staff, with the Marlins sandwiched in between. This nine-game swing could put the Phillies in a dogfight for their fifth straight National League East title or separate them from the contenders.
After the second Braves series, the Phillies play the Cardinals (road), Rockies (home), Rangers (home) and Reds (home). All these teams will be tough to win a series against so the Phillies must step up to the plate.
The starting pitching will continue to perform at a high level, but will the offense score some runs during this stretch?
How about the bullpen? Will they continue to get key outs in late innings?
Fans will find out if the Phillies are the team to beat in the National League over this stretch of games.
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