The Phillies received a shot in the arm with the injection of speed merchant Shane Victorio at the top of the lineup. Next season, the club could explore this concept even further.
If the Phillies were so inclined, they could field the fastest lineup in the National League next season. That’s predicated on whether they’re ready to roll with Michael Bourn, their top position prospect and sure winner of this season’s Paul Owens Award for best Phillies minor league position player. The belief is that the 23-year-old former 19th-round pick has a better upside than 27-year-old Chris Roberson, and also trumps him in the field.
I've seen enough to assume Victorino is ready to become a full-time contributor. His numbers back me up in two stints taking over for Aaron Rowand. The team can’t be wild about his swing, but with his arm, range and speed, they’ll take his flaws with a grain of salt. He’s been a nice, speedy fit at No. 2, but would probably fit better in right rather than center, where he could uncork relays to second and truly unleash that backdoor play to first.
Slow and plodding for many seasons, the Phillies have bolted their way to the top of the league in runs scored. Obviously, Ryan Howard’s 135 RBIs are a huge part of it, but the team is also manufacturing runs using speed and extra-base hits, as Victorino and fellow lightning bolt Roberson showed last night with a pair of late-game triples. This is a huge weapon in NL East canyons like Florida and Washington.
Around this time last season, the Phillies ranked close to dead last in extra-base hits. Along with strikeouts, it’s the primary reason why the offense bottomed out so many times, despite maintaining the league’s highest on-base percentage.
What a difference a year makes. This season, the Phils have banged out 475 extra-baggers, second most in the National League behind New York. They’re tenth in doubles, seventh in triples and second in home runs. Credit Howard, but it's still fairly amazing, considering Citizens Bank Park has a growing reputation as a difficult place to double and triple.
With Chase Utley hitting third, and underrated big-man speed in Howard batting cleanup, the Phillies can beat you in many ways right out of the chute. The club is in very good shape to dump nearly all their resources into pitching next season. Even if Pat Burrell’s albatross contract is not moved, there’s still room to take on a high-end third baseman, perhaps in a trade involving pitching prospects. The Phillies suddenly have a cache of more mid-level minor league arms than they can use. Teams like Kansas City, Texas and Colorado could sure use them, and may be prepared to move Mark Teahen (KC), Hank Blalock (Tex) or Garrett Atkins (Col). Atkins was brought up in an e-mail earlier today. He's a good fit because he’s a right-handed bat, plus, he’s buds with Chase Utley from their days at UCLA. Colorado has a 3B in waiting in Ian Stewart, as does Kansas City with Alex Gordon. For any of these players, my package would included the vastly over-hyped Gio Gonzalez and another young arm.
With a better-hitting third baseman to compliment the key players, the door could be wide open to experiment with a light-hitting, but quick and defense-oriented outfield. It’s the economic choice, too. Judging from readers’ response to the current lineup, they’re sold on the Phillies' newly discovered speed.
If anything, it's an exciting hypothesis. Perhaps it reminds Phans of the dynamic lineups that have burned them in the past. There's just something about speed that makes good things happen.