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Reasons for Optimism With Phillies’ Offense

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It’s no secret that the Phillies are no longer a franchise known for its offensive prowess.

In fact, if you wereChase Utley photo: Chuck Solomon (Sports Illustrated) betting the “under” each game on 3.5 runs from the Phillies‘ offense, you would be in the black after the season’s first 53 games (with 28 games of three or fewer runs).

The once-mighty Phillies’ lineup has definitely lost a lot of its pop over the last couple seasons. Of the 30 teams in major league baseball, the Phillies rank 15th in runs scored, 19th in homers, 20th in slugging percentage, and 21st in extra-base hits.

But when your team ERA is in the range of 3.00, it doesn’t take a lot of offensive fireworks to consistently win games. At the one-third mark of the 2011 season, the Phillies are 14 games over .500 and on pace for a major league leading 102 wins.

It appears that Ruben Amaro’s plan of stockpiling ace starters is a winning strategy after all. But for those who still fear a quick playoff exit if the bats fall asleep in October, there are reasons for optimism when it comes to the team‘s offense.

For one thing, Charlie Manuel is close to finally fielding a lineup with all of his expected starters. Not that we don’t love Pete Orr, Michael Martinez, Wilson Valdez, and Dane Sardinha (okay, with the exception of Valdez, we actually don’t love any of those guys), but it is nice to see the starting nine actually include names like Utley, Victorino, Ruiz, and Brown.

In fact, since Chase Utley’s much anticipated return on May 23rd, the Phillies have scored more than three runs in seven of eight games, and have plated an average of 6 runs per game.

Part of that offensive rebound can be attributed to the resurgence of Raul Ibanez during the month of May. After being an offensive vacuum during the season’s first month, left field is now a very productive position thanks to a confident and red-hot Ibanez. Since ending his 0-for-35 nightmare on May 3rd, he has hit .330 with 7 homers and 19 RBI and 18 runs scored in his last 26 games. That pace may not continue for the final 110 games, but a productive Ibanez does a lot for the middle of the batting order. And, after the month of April, did anyone think that Ibanez would find himself on pace for the following numbers one-third of the way through the season?: .247 average, 24 homers, 87 RBI.

Ibanez’s early season struggles, along with an ineffective Ben Francisco and an injured Shane Victorino, forced the hands of Manuel and Amaro Jr.

Manuel had to go against his tendency to play veterans, as he penciled in John Mayberry Jr. for a lot of important playing time. Mayberry Jr. has responded with some key hits and excellent range in the outfield, and his opportunity to play could prove beneficial to the Phillies‘ when he assumes his eventual role as a postseason bench bat.

The same variables that created playing time for Mayberry also forced Amaro Jr. to bring Domonic Brown back to the big club and give him consistent playing time. In contrast to the stretch run of 2010, Brown is actually getting to the plate regularly and is being allowed to grow as a major league ballplayer well in advance of any late season pressure.

In his first ten games with the big club, Brown is hitting .310 with 5 RBI. But, more importantly, he appears to have regained his confidence and the sweet swing that everyone raved about over the past two years.

So, while all major league teams have their problems, the Phillies still managed to register more wins than anyone else through the first one-third of the season. The offense was bad at times, with five of the nine spots in the lineup seeming like sure outs on many nights.

But suddenly, there is the presence of Utley and a run-producer in Ibanez. There is the young talent of Brown. Ruiz is healthy and Victorino will join the lineup by week’s end. Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard have been highly productive since day one.

If the biggest cause for concern is a lack of consistency from Jimmy Rollins in the leadoff spot, it could start to feel a little more like 2007-2009 for the Phillies’ offense.

And with the pitching this team has, anything close to that offensive output will be more than enough.

 

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

 

Utley photo: Chuck Solomon (Sports Illustrated)

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net   

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