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Phillies have more questions than originally anticipated as Spring Training ends

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Despite the heartbreaking end to the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies season, expectations for the club were still high going into Spring Training this year.
 
Now it seems those expectations have been tempered just a bit, as the injury bug has swept through this team like the plague. We knew of Ryan Howard’s injury going into the season, but more and more questions have popped up as the weeks have passed in regards to their hitting and relief pitching as the team heads back east. Juan Pierre photo: AP

Here are some of the team’s biggest concerns as the season opener in Pittsburgh beckons.

The offense- The numbers don’t lie: the Phillies’ bats have been in decline for three straight seasons. The team scored 820 runs in 2009, but just two years later dropped to 713. Now, subtract the 244 runs batted in last season from Howard, the often-injured Chase Utley (by now everybody knows of his injury), and the departed Raul Ibanez. That’s some tough production to replace. While spectacular with the glove, Utley’s replacement Freddy Galvis couldn’t replace Utley’s offense on Utley’s worst day. The fact that Galvis was among the team leaders in RBIs this spring pretty much sums up the team’s hitting woes. If Galvis falters, Placido Polanco can always play second base, but he has a hard time staying healthy as well.

Further adding to the confusion is John Mayberry Jr. After putting up strong numbers off the bench last season, Mayberry had an awful spring, hitting just .188. This is a guy who is going to be called upon to play left field as well as first base for a good part of the season until Howard gets back from his injury, and even that is a question mark. If Jim Thome has to play first base three times a week, the Phillies have major issues. Laynce Nix didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball this spring, either, and he may see some time at first base as well. If Mayberry, Nix, and Thome fail to produce, Ty Wigginton will be seeing a significant amount of playing time.  

With Ibanez gone, Mayberry and Nix comprise your left field platoon. If the two fail to produce at first base, they most likely won’t produce here. This is where Juan Pierre comes into play. Pierre got the nod over Scott Podsednik and made the Phillies 25-man roster for Opening Day. Pierre, 34, batted .313 this spring, but was only 3 for 7 in stolen base attempts, including Friday night against the Yankees.

The selection of Pierre is a little of a surprise considering Podsednik hit .362 this spring and showed no signs of his foot injury that hampered him last season. Furthermore, Pierre’s defense has declined steadily since his days of patrolling centerfield for the Marlins. Nonetheless, Pierre will most likely bat leadoff when he’s in the lineup, with Shane Victorino batting second followed by Jimmy Rollins hitting third. Normally, Rollins might balk at this move, but with the Phillies so banged up he’ll probably acquiesce without much hesitation. Under Charlie Manuel, the Phillies have never been confused with a team that manufactures runs. The way things look now however, they really have no choice but to do so if they hope to even stand a chance of making a deep playoff run in October.

The bullpen:  The Phillies’ bullpen has gone from bad to worse this spring. Antonio Bastardo’s troubles are somewhat of an issue. Bastardo has had forearm soreness, and his velocity was a concern all spring, which raised more questions about his subpar second half of 2011. However, he did look good against the Yankees on Friday and can use that outing as a confidence booster. Adding to the team’s issues is Michael Stutes, who played a big part in the Phillies 2011 season out of the bullpen. Stutes, who also struggled on and off after July of last year, had a disastrous spring and now has a stiff shoulder.  And although he is making steady progress, Jose Contreras is still coming off elbow surgery and will most likely miss the first few games of the regular season.

Despite looking shaky against the Yankees, veteran newcomer Chad Qualls has had a solid spring. As of right now, he’s most likely to be the setup man for Jonathan Papelbon, with Kyle Kendrick manning the fifth and sixth innings. While he didn’t make the Opening Day Roster, lefty Jake Diekman looked promising all spring and might eventually see action with the big club if the pen can’t keep it together in the early going. Hey, if all else fails there’s always David Herndon. Hold your breath. We’ll get through this together.

As many hits as the Phils have taken in the early going, the big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels is still intact. And despite the setbacks the Phillies have suffered in the early going, Vegas odds makers currently have them at 11/2 odds to win the World Series behind the Angels, Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox. Stay tuned the next few days as the Philly2Philly sports guys offer their analysis regarding why (or why not) the Phils will win their sixth straight NL East crown.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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