When you look around Citizens Bank Park, or, since it's still Spring Training, Brighthouse Networks Field, you don't see the once potent offense the Phillies had in 2008 when they beat the Tampa Bay Rays to capture the World Series title. You just don't.
Chase Utley has chronic knee injuries which limit him severely, Jimmy Rollins has lost a step in the hole and on the base paths, Ryan Howard's power seems to be diminishing with age—an Achilles injury doesn't help—and the once-powerful bat of Pat Burrell is no longer here. Even Placido Polanco is looking as old as ever, and Tigers fans said that happened in 2006.
Everyone always says, "Pitching wins championships." And, for the last two years, the Phillies have had the pitching. I mean, what's better than three dominant aces and a blossoming young righty?
However, the 2008 Phillies were nearly the opposite of the team GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has amassed today. In 2008, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Joe Blanton all made names for themselves by getting hot in the World Series, but the team was really carried by a top-notch offense comprised of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley.
Today, however, that "top-notch" offense is nearly gone. It's been replaced by the best on paper rotation ever assembled.
Key word? On paper.
Even though Halladay, Lee, and Hamels have been stellar in the regular season, hiccups like Game 1 of the 2010 NLCS and Game 2 of the 2011 NLDS by Halladay and Lee respectively have shown chinks in the armor. But these are minor setbacks.
The more important thing is, unlike common misconception, a loaded lineup wins championships. The Phillies did in 2008, the Yankees did it 2009, and last year's champion Cardinals had Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, and Albert Pujols in the lineup.
If you aren't able to outscore your opponent, you won't be able to win any big games. And now to get to the point: if Philadelphia needs anyone to step it up, it isn't Hamels, Halladay, Lee, or even new closer Jonathan Papelbon. It's their two best hitters, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino.
These two fellows were fantastic in Phillies uniforms last season, outplaying former MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.
In fact, by saber-metric parameters, Victorino and Pence easily outplayed those two. Pence posted a 5.3 WAR, while Victorino had 5.1. Howard only had 2.7, with Rollins coming in at 3.7.
And it was obvious in their statistics as well: Pence and Victorino are now the engines of a completely different Phillies lineup. In only 54 games as a Phillie, Pence hit an unbelievable .324 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs. Victorino had 17 home runs, 16 triples, and 27 doubles while posting an impressive .491 slugging percentage.
Due to their production, Pence and Victorino will most likely be in the heart of the lineup, hitting fourth and second respectively. This means that they will need to drive in runners as well as get on base themselves, but until Ryan Howard returns in mid-summer, most of the power in the Phillies lineup will come from them. That's what I call an X-Factor.
Thankfully, both of them are among only a handful of key Phillies who have been injury-free this offseason.
That's a good thing considering their offensive production could certainly determine how efficient the offense is, and more important, how far the Phillies go in this year's postseason.
Read more of my work here.