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The Curious Case Of Raul Ibanez

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It wasn't that long ago when Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker would enthusiastically call his name during the Phillies pre-game starting lineups. "Batting fifth, left fielder RAUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLLL Ibanez." You would then hear the chants from the sell out crowds at Citizens Bank Park echo in unison: "RAUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL RAUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLLLLL"

Baker still gives him that boisterous introduction. But during the last three months, Raul Ibanez has given the Phillies faithful very little to cheer about. Ibanez has struggled mightily since his return from the disabled list with a groin injury. His average has dropped more than 100 points since his return from the DL. Some have speculated from the obvious to the obscure concerning the recent lack of production from the 37-year old outfielder. While the Phillies third consecutive appearance in the playoffs appears imminent barring a historic collapse, the team will need Ibanez to get hot again if they are to repeat as World Series Champions. Let's break down some of the possible scenarios that have led to Ibanez's decline. Take note that these are observations only. I am looking at this objectively and am not insinuating anything in regards to Raul Ibanez.

1. His groin injury is lingering- Charlie Manuel asks Ibanez how his groin is almost every day. Ibanez insists he is fine. Although he spent close to a month on the disabled list with this injury, it could have possibly been more serious than originally thought. Either that, or it has continued to bother Ibanez since his return. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has just been placed on the DL for a groin ailment, but he too insists that it isn't serious. Not exactly an injury where there is a definite time table to return. The Phillies have gamers up and down the roster. You need to look no further than Chase Utley, who played half the 2008 season on one hip. So it's no surprise that if his groin was bothering him, Ibanez wouldn't say. If this IS the scenario, let's hope that Ibanez can get some rest prior to the start of the playoffs. With the Phils fighting for the NL's best record it won't be much down time, but every little bit helps.

2. National League pitchers have finally figured Ibanez out- While there may be some validity to this being that Ibanez switched leagues, it's highly unlikely. NOBODY gets cold THAT fast. Even the most average baseball player (and believe me, I've seen PLENTY who have worn Phillies uniforms) couldn't be exposed this quickly. Despite his struggles, Ibanez definitely is an above average baseball player. ESPN's Joe Morgan made an interesting point when he watched Ibanez in last weekend's series against Atlanta. Morgan could tell that Ibanez was not picking up the ball clearly when the pitcher released it, and that his timing was off so he kept fouling off pitches. Could be a possibility, although Ibanez has been back from the DL for quite some time. Morgan also said that there are times when hitters see the ball better than other times. Not completely sure what you can gather from that, except for the fact that perhaps Ibanez should get his vision checked. It has been also said that Ibanez could be compensating for his injury. Therefore, his hitting mechanics could be drastically affected.

3. Ibanez is finally coming back to earth and what you see is what you get- When you look at Ibanez's numbers at this point in the season, they aren't too far off from his career averages when stretched out over a full season. The only real increase are the home runs (27 to a career average of 22.7), slugging percentage (.556 to a career of .478), and OPS (.901 to a career of .824). While Ibanez has been known to go on torrid hitting streaks that can carry a team for weeks at a time, he is just as prone to going stone cold. One home run and five RBI's since the end of July prove that this is definitely the case for the last several months.

4. The blogger and his steroid insinuations- Remember that blogger in the beginning of June who implied that Ibanez's fast start in 2009 was the possibility of steroid use? This prompted the usually mild mannered Ibanez into a vehement denial of these accusations. Cooler heads eventually prevailed. Unfortunately, so did Ibanez offensively, and things have seemed to go downhill for him ever since. A week later, he was placed on the DL, and now here we are. Those comments can be very hard for someone of Ibanez's integrity to take if he is clean. Sometimes, it's even harder to meet expectations and perform when a contract is not the only thing you are trying to live up to. One could argue that, due to Ibanez's emotional reaction to the blog, there is no way possible that he could partake in such an action as steroid abuse. The truth is, nobody really knows except Ibanez. For the record (and so another controversy IS avoided), I personally don't think Ibanez touched the stuff. While Ibanez may not be as talented (or maybe he is), one would like to believe his opinion is held in much higher regard than Rafael ("Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period.") Palmeiro, A-Fraud and Manny.

True, he did switch leagues. Yes, he was injured for quite some time and may still be. Say what you what. Think what you want. At the end of the day, one thing we can all agree on is that Raul Ibanez is long overdue for one more BIG hot streak in 2009- hopefully one that lasts through November.

One that has us chanting "RAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLL" all over again.

 

photo: www.koreatimes.co