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At Long Last... We Gon' Hit

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Whether a function of too-high expectations, ambient Negadelphianism, or imperceptible-but-all-too-real waves of suck emanating from the vicinity of David Bell, the Phillies offense of the last three years has always felt vaguely disappointing. The specific complaints have varied from the understandable and valid ("The leadoff guy doesn't get on base"; "they're vulnerable to lefty specialist relievers") to the debatable ("They strike out too much") to the absurdly dumb ("They leave too many men on base"). But even as various Phils have peppered the National League leaderboard since 2003, and the team has consistently ranked in the top quarter or so in runs scored and other offensive metrics, there's been a sense of unfulfilled promise and missed opportunity.

At least through the first two and a half weeks of September, though, that dog no longer hunts. The Phils have battered opposing pitchers this month at a level even their most optimistic fans probably could not have imagined.  

A week ago today, I posted the following chart comparing Phils and opponents offensive production thus far in September:

Team Runs HR Avg OPS
Phillies 54 13 .263 .820
Opp 40 7 .239 .647

Since then, the gap has mostly grown. Here are the updated numbers:

Team Runs HR Avg OPS
Phillies 108 19 .290 .834
Opp 74 14 .247 .697

Bear in mind that this includes Sunday night's 14-6 loss in Florida; before that game, the Phillies had outscored opponents 102-60 this month. That's a pretty good way to win a lot of games.

As has been noted elsewhere, the largest share of credit goes to Jimmy Rollins. The 26 year-old shortstop is playing the best baseball of his career, and has gone a long way toward justifying that $40 million contract extension he was given a few months back. Since September 1, Rollins is 30-for-76 (.395) with 10 doubles, 2 triples and a homer; he's also scored 19 runs, drawn 7 walks (of just 41 for the full season) and succeeded on 7 of 8 steal attempts. Since August 24, he's raised his OPS from .681 to .734.

Ryan Howard, Bobby Abreu and the Kenson Loftchels centerfield platoon have been nearly as good. Howard has played himself into Rookie of the Year consideration with 7 home runs, 14 RBI and 13 runs scored in 16 games this month; Abreu has rediscovered his form with a .468 on-base percentage in September, along with 8 extra-base hits, 12 RBI and 5 steals. Kenny Lofton has been perhaps the hottest Phillie, with 19 hits in 40 at-bats (.475) so far this month; Jason Michaels, his right-handed counterpart, has added 10 hits in 33 at-bats, plus six walks. Here's their combined line:

29-73, 5 2b, 2 3b, HR, 12 RBI, 9 BB, .397 avg, .463 OBP, .562 SLG, 1.025 OPS

Not bad. With Rollins and the CF du jour at the top of the order, the Phils have enjoyed plenty of early scoring opportunities this month.

Pat Burrell and even the aforementioned Bell have been contributors as well. Burrell has just a .267 average for the month, but he's drawn 16 walks and driven in 14 to nicely cap a season of redemption. Bell continues to scuffle terribly against right-handers, but his .284 average and .799 OPS for the month are on pace to be season bests. Is it too much to hope he's even re-established some trade value? (Even if so, a Phils front office more disposed to see him favorably than any other probably voids that notion.)

I haven't yet had a chance to see how this compares to the best hitting months in team history, but given that the Phils are averaging close to seven runs scored per game--they've cracked double digits five times in 17 contests--it's got to be up there. After three years of somehow disappointing production, this outburst is worth savoring. Here's hoping it lasts through a week when the Braves will send Sosa, Smoltz and Hudson against Cholly's Wallbangers.