Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shades of the past

"You want to be in a town where it's exciting and people are paying attention."

~Hunter Pence after being traded to Philadelphia

Anyone paying attention to the Phillies in their three-game sweep over the Pirates this weekend received wonderful reminders of 2009, even though Hunter Pence's arrival was a big call to the future.

In each game, a different member of the formally dangerous offense sparked the victory - Chase Utley on Friday, Ryan Howard on Saturday and Raul Ibanez in Sunday's thrilling 6-5, extra inning triumph.

Though his .247 batting average suggests otherwise, Ibanez has been a presence in the lineup. His two bombs on Sunday gave him 16 on the year, already matching last year's total with two months left to play, and his game-ending, RBI double gives him three of the Phillies' six walk-off hits this year. Take out the two weeks in late April when he failed to get a single hit, and Ibanez' average is .275. Sure, that's not eye-popping, but his production is a welcome surprise given his age of 39.

Ibanez also drove in 25 runs in July, which led the majors. In fact, the hottest month of the year was a good one for the Philly bats in general. They hit .272 and averaged 5.5 runs per game, while their 138 runs, 402 total bases and .789 team OPS (coming into Sunday) all led the National League.

Charlie Manuel is notorious for his placating remarks about how good the Phillies lineup will get "when the weather warms up," and they're proving him right. On the eve of a 10-game road trip, the hot-hitting Phillies go in with extra confidence. Pence now mans right field and the No. 5 hole, and Placido Polanco just returned. Don't be surprised if the flashbacks to the recent past continue.

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