When the Phillies re-signed J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius and ran back an offense that had averaged 5.1 runs last season, their formula became clear. They were going to try to hit their way to the postseason.
It hasn’t happened like that.
Entering play Monday in Milwaukee, the Phillies were a middle-of-the-pack team in the National League in most offensive categories, including runs (eighth), hits (ninth), home runs (seventh), on-base percentage (eighth), slugging (seventh), and OPS (seventh). But they busted out for 12 runs on 16 hits, including six homers, in a 12-0 pummeling of the Brewers, a performance that was all the more impressive because it came against Cy Young Award candidate Brandon Woodruff.
“If you want to be in the playoffs and win series and keep advancing,” said first baseman Brad Miller, who went deep twice, “you have to beat these studs like Woodruff.”
Take it one step further: If the Phillies want to be in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, they have to pound many of the pitchers they will face in the final 25 games.
When the Phillies won eight games in a row at the beginning of August, they slashed .289/.347/.554 and averaged 6.9 runs. When they dropped 11 of their next 15 games, they hit .193/.279/.331 and averaged 3.1 runs. Since then, they are 8-2 in large part because they’re hitting .287/.363/.522 and averaging 6.8 runs.
So, yes, it’s imperative that the Phillies get quality starts and reliable relief pitching and better defense. But they were built to slug, and although they won’t always erupt like they did Monday, slugging will be their surest way to reaching the postseason.
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The Phillies want to lean on Zack Wheeler down the stretch, which also means keeping him healthy as he reaches what will surely be a career-high innings total. Striking that balance prompted Joe Girardi to lift Wheeler after 99 pitches Monday.
Héctor Neris’ road to 500 career strikeouts was defined by his resilience. Matt Breen retells Neris’ compelling rise to becoming a mainstay in the Phillies bullpen.
If Ranger Suárez is compromised by tightness in his left triceps, Marcus Hayes doubts the Phillies will be able to make the playoffs.
On the eve of Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame induction, Girardi and Didi Gregorius look back on their relationships with the iconic Yankees shortstop.
Tonight: Aaron Nola faces lefty Eric Lauer in Milwaukee, 7:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Kyle Gibson vs. the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta, 7:40 p.m.
Thursday: Suárez starts at home vs. the Rockies, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Girardi goes bullpenning against Colorado, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
With the Phillies winning a giggler Monday, it was a good time to appreciate Neris.
Not only did the veteran reliever record his 500th career strikeout, but he also became only the fifth pitcher in franchise history with at least four seasons of 60 or more appearances. The others: Jack Baldschun, Ron Reed, Ricky Bottalico, and Ryan Madson. Neris is second to Reed (519) on the Phillies’ all-time list for strikeouts by a reliever.
Neris also has been a force out of the bullpen lately. Since he gave up six runs July 4 against the Padres, he has yielded four earned runs in 28 1/3 innings for a 1.27 ERA in 28 games.
From the mailbag
Question: Hi, Scott. Cutch [Andrew McCutchen] is punishing lefties and Odúbel [Herrera] is having a much better season than I think was anticipated. If [Dave] Dombrowski could sign both players to reasonable short-term contracts, would a left-field platoon work next year? Keep up the good work. — Jim L., via email
Answer: Thanks, Jim. The outfield will be an area of focus in the offseason, with the Phillies likely addressing left field and center. They could do worse than re-signing McCutchen, in particular, as part of a left-field platoon. As you noted, he has mashed against left-handed pitching. We broke down his numbers in yesterday’s newsletter.
As always, though, it will depend on the market. McCutchen will surely want to play every day. If he gets an offer to do so, I have to believe he would take it. But if the Phillies are able to bring him back on a one- or two-year deal for reasonable dollars, they would have to consider it.