MILWAUKEE — The bass thumped, the good times rolled, and after a seventh consecutive victory — the last six under interim manager Rob Thomson — Phillies players reveled in a boisterous clubhouse Thursday and talked about having fun and feeling confident.
So, Bryce Harper, what came first: the good vibes or the winning?
“Everybody’s happy when we win,” Harper said after the Phillies won again, 8-3, over the Milwaukee Brewers to polish off their first three-game road sweep since last September. “Everybody’s happy when you play good baseball. It’s fun to win. It’s not fun to lose.”
The Phillies haven’t lost since May 31, three days before president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski woke up, went for a jog, and chose to fire Joe Girardi. Not everything that’s occurred since can be attributed directly to a managerial change. But the Thompson Turnaround is real, and, well, it has been spectacular.
Never mind that the Phillies’ back-to-back sweeps have come over the swooning Los Angeles Angels and the Brewers, who have lost six in a row and are falling faster than their mascot down his slide at American Family Field. The Phillies are playing better, which is boosting their confidence and causing them to have more fun. It’s palpable.
Consider this: They have outscored opponents 53-19 during the winning streak. Under Thomson, they have scored 47 runs, an average of 7.8 runs per game, hit 16 homers, and slugged .591. They were built to bash their way to wins, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
No wonder Thomson is the first manager to win his first six games since Felipe Alou went 7-0 for the San Francisco Giants in 2003.
“It looks like a video game,” said starter Zach Eflin, who lasted only four innings but was bailed out by homers from Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Odúbel Herrera. “There’s literally no breaks in our lineup, one through nine. It’s a special group of guys, and when they’re on, they’re on.”
Don’t look now, but the Phillies are within one game of .500 (28-29).
What might the atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park be like when the hottest team in baseball returns home Friday night to face the Arizona Diamondbacks?
“Jeez, I don’t know,” Thomson said. “I don’t think I’ve been in the ballpark after two sweeps since I’ve been here. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. But I’m sure it’s going to be a little more upbeat, a little more confidence on our club and hopefully with our fans.”
In finishing off the Brewers, Harper hit a massive home run off the center-field scoreboard in the seventh inning before Schwarber and Herrera added two-run jobs in the eight and ninth, respectively. The late thunder meant Thomson didn’t have to turn to embattled closer Corey Knebel to safeguard a slim lead.
If the Phillies showed off their slug late in the game, the early innings were a slog. Eflin and Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, racked up high pitch counts and were gone by the fifth inning. The teams combined to use 11 pitchers, who threw a total of 400 pitches.
But there’s seemingly no stopping the Thomson Turnaround. J.T. Realmuto broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning with a sac fly, and Didi Gregorius, who finished with three hits, added a two-out, check-swing RBI double to left field, the sort of result that happens only when everything is going perfectly.
And now, the Phillies’ next 13 games are against noncontending Arizona, Miami, Washington, and Texas. If they’re going to make their move in the National League playoff race, now is the time, part of the reason Dombrowski believed last Friday was the right time for a managerial change.
“They’re still Major League Baseball teams, right?” Harper said. “We’ve got to take care of business. You can’t overlook anybody that we play.”
Said Eflin: “It’s been awesome. All sides of the ball, everybody’s playing well. We’re playing well, we’re having fun, and we’re looking forward to continuing it.”
Schwarber’s favorite month
A year ago, Schwarber went 28-for-100 with 16 homers and a .760 slugging percentage in June to turn around his season after a slow start with the Washington Nationals, who inserted him in the leadoff spot.
Once again, Schwarber is back atop the batting order and heating up in June.
Including his two-run homer in the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Trevor Kelley, Schwarber is 10-for-28 (.357) with three doubles, four homers, and an .893 slugging percentage since the calendar flipped from May. After being removed from the leadoff spot for a spell, he has been back atop the Phillies’ order since May 28, a span of 11 games, and reached base at a .415 clip.
Eflin didn’t have his usual precision command, but the Brewers — specifically Willy Adames — also made him work hard.
Adames, who homered in the first inning, waged a 10-pitch at-bat in the second and a 13-pitch at-bat in the fourth. Although neither resulted in a hit — Adames’ comebacker to the mound left the bases loaded in the second inning — Eflin was out of the game at 96 pitches after four innings.
“Good gracious, it was a grind,” Eflin said. “I think he saw 30-something pitches, which is a third of the pitches that I threw. I was just praying he’d pop one up eventually. It wasn’t just Adames. They were getting me deep into counts. I wasn’t putting guys away. They kept fouling stuff off. They ran me out of the game.”
Eflin also issued three walks to snap a streak of 33 consecutive starts in which he walked two batters or fewer. It was the third-longest streak by a Phillies pitcher, trailing Robin Roberts (36 starts in 1960-61) and Roy Halladay (35 starts in 2010-11).