CINCINNATI — No one will say Shane Victorino is the National League MVP, because he isn't. But the fact that we're even having this discussion says enough.
Victorino is unquestionably the Phillies' best hitter through 130 games in 2011. In the National League, he ranks eighth in batting average, eighth in on-base percentage and ninth in slugging percentage. He is second in the league with 14 triples, a career-high. He has 15 home runs and will probably set a career-high there, too.
He missed 27 games because of two disabled list stints.
And he should still appear on a majority of MVP ballots this fall. Yes, Joey Votto, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki and others are arguably having better seasons.
Voters are asked to pick the top 10 players in each league. Right now, Shane Victorino is one of them. That's an offensive transformation no one could have foreseen.
While Cole Hamels' triumphant return was the most important story of Monday's 3-2 victory, Victorino's home run ensured victory. It was easily a footnote because Victorino is having that kind of a season. His key hits are expected — even after momentary failure.
"The guy ends up striking him out," Charlie Manuel said, "threw him a couple of breaking balls on 3-1 and we had guys in scoring position. He swung at one and then took strike three. Then he comes back, gets a breaking ball and hits a home run.
"He has been getting a lot of extra-base hits and it seems like every one of them is big at the moment. He’s been getting some big hits for us."
The most impressive thing about Victorino's 2011, as I noted in a story a few weeks back, is how his game has evolved.
His strikeouts are down. His walks are up. He's hitting for more power, but not just home runs — the bad pattern that marred his 2010 season.
One more table:
His career arc has followed common sense. As a major-leaguer in his early stages, Victorino relied heavily on his speed. In 2008, when he hit a then-career-best .293, 21.6 percent of his hits were on the infield. It was his game.
Now he's 30 and his power has filled out. Only 6.5 percent of his hits are of the infield variety. His 11.1 percent extra-base hits ranks eighth in the league (ahead of such names as Kemp, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard). It required 2010 for Victorino to realize line drives are more valuable than trying to hit long balls. With age came maturity both mentally and physically.
For that, these Phillies are quite thankful. And the rest of baseball is probably about to notice.
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