PHILLIES LAND PENCE AS DEADLINE NEARS

The Philadelphia Philles moved to improve their offense Friday by acquiring Astros OF Hunter Pence for two minor leaguers and two PTBNLs. Pence will move into the right field position for the Phils as they try to maintain their status atop the National League.

Pence is under club control through the 2013 season and has $2.3M remaining on his 1 yr/$6.9M 2011 contract.

The Phillies and Giants are NL bretheren with both clubs leading their divisions behind strong pitching staffs and struggling offenses. The big bats in the Philadelphia lineup appear to outweigh the Giants’ swingers, especially in a year when San Francisco has lost some key players and has others slumping.

But for the Phillies, this is no time to stand pat and hope. The Giants knocked off the Phils in last year’s NLDS, then won the World Series. No small matter for Philadelphia, which is in the midst of a quirky run of success.

Three straight years the Phillies have gone deep into the post-season. In 2008 they won it all. In 2009 Charlie Manuel’s crew got back to the Series but lost to the Yankees. And last season it was a third straight NLCS appearance, but this time it ended in a loss.

Ruben Amaro Jr. has been one of the more active GMs in the league, adding prominent parts to the Philadelphia machine with great regularity and boldness in recent years. Trades have been made, free agents have been signed and established stars have been signed to long term deals under his watch.

Now the Giants, and their GM Brian Sabean, have popped up as an unlikely rival. Sabean made moves before and during the 2010 season that were not expected to bear much fruit, yet those acquisitions made key contributions down the stretch and in the post-season. Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were there for the taking. Sabean did when others wouldn’t and they all paid off in spades.

Ross was the NLCS MVP and if they gave such an award for the NLDS he would have been the clear winner there also.

2011 has been a mind-numbing version of last year’s Torture for the Giants. Injuries have taken out key players Buster  Posey and Freddie Sanchez while stunting the growth of can’t-miss hitting machine Brandon Belt. Yet the Giants sit atop the NL West with a solid record and just added OF Carlos Beltran to the lineup.

Amaro and the Phillies have a stunning lineup of starting pitchers, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Yet last year in the NLCS and to this point in the 2011 season, the Giants appear to be every bit as well-armed.

Both clubs have struggling offenses. The  Giants manage to score enough with whomever they send up to the plate to make Lincecum, Cain and Co.’s efforts stand up consistently. The Phillies get the requisite support to make their staff of aces winners.

But both clubs knew they needed more punch for the long haul through the post-season and both went for it. Sabean landed Beltran. Amaro Jr. landed Pence. This is a tough race to handicap. Rows and columns of data on stat sheets indicate that the Phillies have the arms and the bats to roll through the National League this year.

That was the case last October as well, when the Giants knocked them out and advanced.

Beltran was the most coveted bat in this year’s deadline dealings. Pence is solid and fits well in the Philly lineup. Let the races begin in earnest.

And there are still two more days before the curtain comes down on non-waiver trades.