The Philadelphia Phillies‘ offense have been a puzzling bunch for most of the 2011 season. For a while, on Opening Day as the team struggled making contact with Houston Astros‘ starter Brett Myers, it looked like the lineup picked right up where it left off following the 2010 National League Championship Series—standing at the plate looking at strike three.

On that day though, John Mayberry Jr. delivered a clutch base hit off of the bench, where he sat next to Greg Gross, one of the greatest pinch-hitters of all time, Greg Gross, now Phillies’ hitting coach, for most of the game. From that at-bat onward, it seemed as though the offense was going to reach down inside and deliver some of that potential we had been waiting for.

A few weeks later, Phillies’ fans were demanding a trade for a legitimate offensive superstar as Chase Utley sat out with Patellar Tendinitis and the rest of the lineup sputtered through a rough patch, headlined by tremendous offensive struggles like Raul Ibanez’s 0-for-35 slump. At that moment, it became painfully clear that this offense may not live up to its potential and was going to be a very streaky team throughout the season.

So for those reasons alone, I took to Citizens’ Bank Park last week to try and get to the bottom of the Phils’ offensive struggles and how they planned on breaking free of those streaky shackles. Needless to say, from one hitter to the next, from coach to coach, the Phillies’ clubhouse echoed like a  cavernous hall about staying consistent and not trying to change their approach at the plate. (I summarized my findings in this piece earlier in the week.)

Continuing with their streaky ways, as soon as I posted that article about breaking out of the well documented slump, the Phillies’ offense caught fire. The date I posted my piece coincided with the date that the team activated its All-Star second baseman and catalyst, and even though he didn’t do much to support the cause, the Phils’ pounded Bronson Arroyo and the Cincinnati Reds for 10 runs.

As much as I would like to believe that my fingertips hold some sort of voodoo like magic and I propelled the Phillies to a big offensive night by putting a jinx on their offensive struggles, I think it’s much more likely that Utley’s return provided some sort of spark—or maybe not. Be it Utley’s return or a return to consistency, the Phils’ have certainly played better baseball since.

The Phillies as a team have scored 34 runs in five games since Utley’s return last Monday. Prior to his return, it took the Phils’ 14 games to score a total of 34 runs. There are critics out there that won’t be keen on giving Utley credit for providing a spark to a slumping offense, but the results are undeniable—with Chase Utley playing second base, the Phillies are scoring runs at a rapid pace, and that bodes well.

Heading into the season, we knew that if they could put runs on the board, they’d win games behind this rotation, and that’s been exactly the case.

After shutting things down in spring training, there is finally good news coming out of Florida in regards to Phillies’ reliever Brad Lidge. After missing close to two months of the regular season with a partial tear in his rotator cuff, Lidge is scheduled to pitch an inning in an extended spring training game. It’s a big first step for the Phils’ right-hander.

Pitching in an extended spring training game may not seem like a big deal for a major league reliever, but for Lidge, this marks the official restart of his spring training. Barring any setbacks, Lidge will probably make 10 to 12 appearances, including an official rehab assignment. If all goes well, he could rejoin the Phillies sometime in June.

Though he won’t be closing games initially upon his return, he gives the Phils’ impressive depth at the back end of the bullpen. Along with Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson, whom opponents are hitting a combined .179 against and have allowed just five earned runs, Lidge will join breakout relievers Mike Stutes and Antoino Bastardo, who’ve been better than advertised through the end of May.

With the way those four have been pitching, the rest of the bullpen is on notice upon Lidge’s return. In his role as a long reliever, Kyle Kendrick has pitched well, inspiring Charlie Manuel to use him in a couple of spot starts (one of which didn’t go very well, thanks to Jason Giambi).

He seems to be safe. Danys Baez’s stellar outing in that 19-inning marathon seems to have garnered him some respect amongst the organization, so it may very well be JC Romero, who has the worst K:BB rate of all relievers over the last three seasons, who is on the way out.

With Chase Utley’s return to the lineup, the Phillies regulars are almost, well, regular. With the infield intact in its entirety, only Shane Victorino is missing from the starting lineup and not for long. The speedy center fielder will begin his rehab assignment this weekend, and the plan is to have him test his legs in the minor leagues for about a week.

He’ll play for the Lakewood BlueClaws on Saturday and Sunday, followed by an off day on Monday. If that goes according to plan, Victorino will join the Reading Phillies on Tuesday and play there through Thursday, rejoining the big league Phillies by Friday.

With a full lineup finally intact, I’m somewhat curious as to what Charlie Manuel plans on doing with his lineup. He seems to be comfortable with the duo of Chase Utley and Placido Polanco anchoring the 2- and 3-spots in his order, and Raul Ibanez is hot enough to hit fifth.

The real question may be who becomes the right fielder when Victorino is activated. Team officials seem to be infatuated with Michael Martinez’s skill set, though he hasn’t contributed much to the team yet, and Domonic Brown, Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. all have at least one minor league option.

From a baseball perspective, cutting ties with Martinez may be most beneficial for a team that is trying to win now, but from a gut feeling, we may be seeing the last of Mayberry for a while.

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