Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Keys to Phillies Winning a 5th Straight NL East Title

Eric CaspersonCorrespondent IIMarch 25, 2011

Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Keys to Phillies Winning a 5th Straight NL East Title

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    BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 12:  Infielder Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies fouls off a pitch during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on March 12, 2011 in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by J. Mer
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Opening Day is less than a week away.

    Pretty soon, the Philadelphia Phillies will be on their way back to frigid PA and will start April 1st their quest for a fifth straight NL East Title.

    Phillies fans are hoping for even more...perhaps a second World Series title in four years.

    The Phillies, even though they are favorites to win the division, have some pretty big concerns heading into the season.

    Injuries, age and recent play have put some question marks around the Phillies team.

    If the Phils want to secure a fifth straight title and make it back to the World Series, these will be the five keys to them doing so.

1. Chase Utley

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Chase Utley #26 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at Bright House Networks Field on February 22, 2011 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    One of the biggest stories this year in spring training has been the absence of Chase Utley.

    Utley has yet to play in a game this spring and is likely to start the season on the D.L. with patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

    Utley has been battling injury issues the past few seasons and it has shown in his production.

    His stats have declined the past two seasons. Utley only hit .275 last year, which is a career low for him since he became an everyday player.

    With Jayson Werth gone, this injury is even more magnified because now the only guy left in the middle of the lineup is Ryan Howard.

2. Ryan Howard

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    BRADENTON, FL - MARCH 12:  Infielder Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies fouls off a pitch during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field on March 12, 2011 in Bradenton, Florida.  (Photo by J. Mer
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Chase Utley gives a nice segway into the next key for this season...Ryan Howard.

    Howard's production also dropped off dramatically last year and he has no excuse. He was not hurt.

    Howard only had 31 HR after averaging 50 HR the previous three seasons.

    Ryan Howard is going to miss Jayson Werth hitting behind him, but I think Ben Francisco will end up having a good year.

    The problem will be the guy hitting in front of Howard. If it is Rollins, he has been struggling to get on base.

    Howard's main role on this team is to drive in runs. He had a career low in RBI last year and needs to improve with runners on base.

    You know he is going to get all off speed pitches without Werth batting behind him. He better have fixed his swing and gotten more patient at the plate.

3. Who's in Right?

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Outfielder Ben Francisco #10 of the Philadelphia Phillies advances to third against the New York Yankees during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2011 in Tampa, Florida.  (Ph
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    With Dom Brown going down with an injury, it looks like Ben Francisco will get the call on opening day in RF.

    Francisco has had a great spring hitting .358 with 3 HR. He looks to fill the No. 5 hole vacated by Jayson Werth.

    While Francisco looks good on offense, his defensive skills are what concerns many.

    Because of that, Francisco is still likely to platoon in RF with Ross Gload and perhaps John Mayberry.

    Francisco, given the opportunities he has had thus far in Philly, has produced rather well. This is his biggest opportunity yet and should be able to capitalize on it.

4. Jimmy Rollins

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    CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 06:  Shortstop Jimmy Rollins #11 of the Philadelphia Phillies fouls off a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at Bright House Field on March 6, 2011 in Sarasota, Florida.  (Photo by J. Me
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    It is no surprise that Jimmy Rollins is the catalyst to this Phillies team.

    Whenever J-Roll has been sidelined, the Phillies do not play as well and are not as energized.

    With Rollins in the lineup, the Phillies seem to regain their swagger.

    Rollins has to improve on two straight disappointing seasons. He has to improve on his OBP dramatically.

    If he is going to the be the leadoff hitter, he must have a OBP higher than .324 (his average the past two years).

5. The Bullpen

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 22:  Brad Lidge #54 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Photo Day at Bright House Networks Field on February 22, 2011 in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Brad Lidge, the anchor to the Phillies bullpen, already looks like he is starting the season on the DL.

    After going through a terrible 2009, Lidge bounced back and had a great 2010 season.  

    Lidge isn't the only key. The middle relief pitchers like Jose Contreras, Dannys Baez and David Herndon may be even more important this year.

    The Phillies let Chad Durbin, probably their best middle relief guy, walk this offseason.

    Hopefully the starting rotation will take care of the middle relief by going seven innings each day.

    However, that will not happen. One of the new guys in the bullpen is going to have to step up.

    Vance Worley could be that guy.