TRUE OR FALSE: The Phillies have one of the best lineups in baseball.
Correct answer: Maybe.
Depends on whether it includes the Chase Utley who has made five straight All-Star teams, led the league in runs scored in 2006 and batted .332 in 2007, or the second baseman who has suffered two serious injuries and whose batting average has declined each year since. The Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard, who never had fewer than 45 homers or 136 RBI in a full season, or the first baseman whose baseball card will forever show 31 and 108 in those categories last season. The spark plug Jimmy Rollins, who makes things happen at the plate, on base and in the field and also has an MVP trophy with his name on it, or the injury-plagued shortstop whose average has slowly drifted from .296 to .277 to .250 to .243 over the last four seasons.
Utley. Howard. Rollins. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel recite those names like a prayer when asked about a batting order from which Jayson Werth was subtracted since the Phillies were bounced from the playoffs by the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
Centerfielder Shane Victorino rarely seems to be lumped into that group. Probably should be. Made his first All-Star team in 2009. Was rewarded with a 3-year, $22 million contract at the end of the season. But, poised for takeoff, the Flyin' Hawaiian was grounded.
"I had a down year," he said this week from his offseason home in Las Vegas. "At least, people thought of it as a down year, because they looked at my average [which dropped from .292 in 2009 to .259]. But if you look at numbers across the board, I personally couldn't say it was a down year."
Well, it's true that his homers jumped from 10 to 18. But his slugging percentage dropped from .445 to .429. He stole nine more bases, but hit 13 fewer doubles. Had a career-high 69 RBI and won his third straight Gold Glove but scored 18 fewer runs. A mixed bag at best.
"If I had the answer, I'd have turned my season around and hit .290 or .300. But it didn't happen," he said. "So this offseason, guys will try to find answers. 'OK, maybe I did this wrong.' Last season is behind us. I like to look at the positives."
And that would probably be the end of it. Except for one thing. In several pointed asides last season and again in a recent interview at Citizens Bank Park, Manuel made it clear that he worried that Victorino might have lost a little bit of his edge.
"First of all, I think he got a little bit more home-run happy. That might have had something to do with it," the manager said. "But also, I think it might have been the fact that we've been successful. We've won games and went to a couple World Series. It might be a relaxation thing or something like that.
"He just didn't stay focused as much as he usually does. We talk about consistency. Every time we have a meeting, [we say] the game is about staying focused. They say, 'Oh, there's nothing wrong with us and we'll win tomorrow. We'll get 'em a couple days from now or next week or whatever.' I think, sometimes, when you get secure, you get relaxed. It's not like you mean to do that. It's just kind of human nature. And all of a sudden you've got to be woken up to how you're supposed to play.
"It's hard. You've heard me say we're getting too complacent or we're getting relaxed, this and that. But you go tell somebody that and he acts like he don't see that. Being around as long as I have, in a way, I kind of understand that. But, at the same time, you have to back up and take inventory of yourself and be honest with yourself."
Victorino respectfully disagrees.
"People try to use that as an answer. Why did guys struggle? Oh, because they're comfortable. Charlie used that word complacent. I don't know. My definition of complacent may be different than Charlie's. Our team, I don't think, ever gets complacent. It's not us. It's not our nature. It's not the way we are," he said.
"I absolutely understand why people would say that. But you look in our clubhouse. There's no way our demeanor has changed. Our hunger is just the same. We ended up with 97 wins, the best record in baseball. In our defense, there's no way you can say our team let up because of multiyear deals or because of big contracts. There are a lot of expectations and a lot of hunger. There are a lot of guys who want to turn things around and show people they're still on the map from the offensive side."
He's also not worried that the Phillies lineup was the oldest in baseball last season.
"Everybody's going to talk about the age. Guys are getting older. All those multiyear deals and everybody's over that 30 mark. Well, you know what? In baseball 30, 31, 32, 33, that's a guy's prime. Guys are starting to learn the game, understand the game, know what the game's about."
Victorino is 30. And he doesn't think he has to make drastic changes to bounce back.
"Honestly, no, I'm not changing my offseason program," he said. "I think I'm trying to hit a little bit more, do different things in the cage. I'm working with my hands a little more, working with my body and trying to figure out, mechanically, what I might have been doing wrong.
"I've also thought about next year trying to bunt more and doing different things like that. There are a lot of things you try to find an answer for."
One of the biggest mysteries is why the switch-hitter went through such miseries from the left side of the plate (.233, compared with .321 when hitting righthanded).
"I can do some different things in the cage," he said. "Hand position, trying to work the ball the other way early in spring training and back to being a pull guy, which I am."
Victorino will be in Philadelphia to accept the Humanitarian Award at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet on Jan. 31, a recognition of the good works done by his foundation, which provides education, recreation and wellness opportunities for underprivileged children in his native Hawaii and Philadelphia. He's honored, but also puts it in perspective.
"But without what I do on the field, I wouldn't have the reflection of what I do off the field. It all works hand in hand," he noted.
First full squad workout in Clearwater: Feb. 19.