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Saturday, November 22, 2014         

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL


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Victorino's bold claim

The Maui-born outfielder calls his Phillies "the favorites to win it all" this year

By Jon Marks / Special to the Star-Advertiser

POSTED:


CHERRY HILL, N.J. » This has always been Jimmy Rollins' thing. He's been the guy making a splash, famously proclaiming the 2007 Phillies the "team to beat'' in the NL East, then proceeding to back it up with an MVP season.

This time it's Shane Victorino doing the talking.

"I'm not one to sit here and make predictions or make bold statements to stir the pot," said Victorino at a dinner Monday in which he was honored as Humanitarian of the Year by the Philadelphia Sportswriter's Association for his charitable work both here and back home. "But I think if you look on paper, we're the favorites to win it all.

"If we hit and pitch, ultimately I think we're the best team.''

Just as quickly as he pointed that out, Victorino interjected that none of that will matter if the 2011 Phillies, armed with a stellar rotation that figures to dominate the league, don't back it up on the field.

"You have to go out there and play 162 games,'' said Victorino, coming off a season in which he reached career highs in homers (18) and RBIs (69), but saw his average plummet 33 points to a career-low .259. "Play into the postseason and win.

"Anyone can go out there and can write down who's the best team on paper. It doesn't mean anything until you go and do it."

Yet wherever he hits in a lineup that features Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz, Victorino expects the Phils to score runs. That, however, proved their downfall last October when the San Francisco Giants shut down those big bats and took them out in the NLCS.

But maybe the Phils won't need to score all that many this year, because they'll have the best rotation in baseball.

"Anyone can go out there and can write down who's the best team on paper. It doesn't mean anything until you go and do it."

Shane Victorino
Phillies outfielder, on his team's prospects for 2011

 

Start with current Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. Add in talented left-hander Cole Hamels; last season's trade deadline prize acquisition, Roy Oswalt; holdover Joe Blanton (who could yet be traded to free up some money); and finally the cream of the free-agent crop, Cliff Lee.

"I kept hearing about this mystery team signing Cliff,'' said Victorino, who was at a friend's house in Las Vegas during the offseason when he learned Lee — who had helped guide the 2009 Phils to the World Series only to be traded to Seattle the same day the Phillies acquired Halladay — would be coming back.

"I sent Cliff a text and didn't hear back from him for a couple of days. Then finally got a reply saying, 'I'm back.' Now I'm ecstatic, and everybody in the city is excited for 2011 to begin."

"We're hungry," said the 31-year-old Victorino, who is entering the second year of a three-year, $22 million contract. "I don't think this team can be any hungrier than we are now.

"Going out and getting Cliff Lee, we're itching. There's a lot of buzz around this team. Internally we know it. But we do a good job focusing on the task in front of us."

Victorino says both he and Rollins, who's in the final year of his own contract, need to get back to what they do best: getting on base and igniting the rest of the lineup.

"I talked to Jimmy the other day,'' said Victorino. "I told him that we need to push each other. We're the catalysts of this team. We bring the speed and energy to the table. We know we're the guys who provide some energy, and we're going to challenge each other.''

At the same time Victorino is challenging himself to raise that average and become a more complete hitter.

"I want to hit .300 and stay up there,'' said Victorino, who came close the previous two seasons, hitting .293 and .292 in 2008 and '09. "Focus on being a better hitter.

"I've heard people say I've become a home run hitter and that I'm always swinging at the first pitch. It helps me to understand what people see. Sometimes you're so blinded on the field you get caught up in it.

"But when you hear those things, read those things, you take a step back and think, 'I may have to do a few things differently.' Bunting more, hitting to the other side."

And he won't worry about where he fits in Charlie Manuel's lineup. As much as Rollins has always cherished the leadoff spot, a growing segment of Phillies fans thinks he might be more valuable in the No. 5 hole, previously occupied by right-fielder Jayson Werth, who took the money ($128 million over the next seven years) and headed 150 miles south to Washington.

"I've always said I'd like to be at the top of the lineup causing havoc on the bases,'' said Victorino, who stole 34 bases last year, two off his career high. "But I can do that from the fifth hole, sixth, seventh. Wherever Charlie puts me. Whatever makes the team better.''

As for his award, Victorino, who established the Shane Victorino Foundation and other charitable endeavors to benefit youth, said: "My parents instilled that in me as a kid. They were involved in the community a lot. I told myself if I could ever give back to the community I'd be 100 percent in.''

The Philadelphia Sportswriter's Association gave him a plaque, honoring him for that commitment the other night. Next on his agenda, though, is getting a bigger piece of hardware — the same one he and the Phillies hoisted in 2008: a World Series trophy.






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