Phillies are far better equipped this season to keep a good thing going | Bob Brookover
The Phillies are 16-12 after 28 games for the second straight year. That's where comparisons begin and end between this year's team and last year's team.
After 28 games, your 2019 Phillies have the same record as your 2018 Phillies, and, in both cases, we have found it hard to believe.
When the Phillies opened last season with a 16-12 record, we were shocked in so many ways. First and foremost, we could not believe that they had overcome a 1-4 start, as well as Gabe Kapler’s heavy-handed and blundering bullpen maneuvers, to win 15 out of 23 games following the season’s first road trip. Also, we did not think a team that hit so little could win so much.
April, however, became the start of a fun four-month ride that ultimately, as we suspected, proved too good to be true.
This year’s 16-12 start, reached after Sunday’s efficient 5-1 win over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, is surprising for an entirely different reason. Instead of asking whether they can keep this up, we are asking why their record is not better.
“I think it feels like two different teams,” Kapler said after watching his band of patient hitters turn four hits and six walks into five runs. “In all fairness, last year’s club at this point, we were a tad over our skis, relative to this club. I think this [year] is more representative of the club that we are – and I think we can be even better than we have been in April, frankly.”
Kapler is not alone in feeling that way. Rhys Hoskins was around to experience both 16-12 starts, and he thinks the Phillies have evolved from a young team that was trying to figure things out to a young team with a confidence that can come only with experience.
“We just feel a lot more experienced,” Hoskins said. “I think some of the expectations on us make it feel different, too. I can tell you, it does not feel the same.”
The Phillies, still with the seventh-youngest group of position players in the big leagues, took advantage of the Marlins’ pitching staff, which is the third youngest in baseball, according to BaseballReference.com. They did so by being patient, then pouncing on mistakes.
Bryce Harper worked an eight-pitch walk off 23-year-old Pablo Lopez with two outs in the first inning and Hoskins followed with a nine-pitch at-bat and hit an RBI double to left field that put the Phillies in front to stay.
“Obviously, Bryce had a really good at-bat right before me … and Jean Segura had good at-bats all day,” Hoskins said. “Cutch [Andrew McCutchen] had good at-bats all day. Really, I think it was up and down the lineup. Not a lot of results, but we’re going to stick to the process-oriented nature of the game, and it seemed to wear on those guys.”
McCutchen walked with one out in the third and Segura, back in the lineup after taking a pitch to the bill of his helmet the night before, followed with an RBI triple. He scored on a grounder by Harper, which is best known in baseball parlance as a quality out. Segura finished with three of the Phillies’ four hits.
Hoskins just sounds smart and experienced when he compares this team with the one he played for a year ago, and he plays the game in the same manner. He had hit a two-run home run when things got hairy for the Phillies on Saturday night and he put the pressure right back on a young Marlins pitcher to start Sunday’s game.
Kapler was not willing to say that the Phillies should beat the Marlins because they are the worst team in baseball, but the Atlanta Braves took advantage of Miami last season by going 14-5 against them on their way to the National League East title. The Phillies improved to 5-2 against the Marlins this season and 13-8 against the division.
Also Sunday, they ended a 17-game stretch without a day off with a 9-8 record and that even included a difficult 2-5 road trip. They went from being tied for first place to a 1 ½-game lead in an NL East that has a bunch of scuffling teams right now.
You can argue that all the Phillies did this weekend was beat a team they are supposed to beat, but that, too, is a sign of a good team.
“The crowds were outstanding all weekend, and we fed off that energy,” Hoskins said. “Obviously, Thursday did not go as we had planned, but I think it’s usually a sign of a pretty good team if you can bounce back from a loss like that and win three straight.”
After 28 games, the Phillies seem sure they are a good team that should get better as the season gets older.
“This was a tough stretch of games without an off day, and we emerged from it intact, and that was important,” Kapler said. “We haven’t been at full strength, and our lineup hasn’t clicked the way we all know it can. We got through April or almost through April, and we’ve done a good job, but I think there’s better baseball to play.”
Kapler might have said something similar to that a year ago, but it’s a lot easier to believe him in 2019.