They began August with eight consecutive victories. They ended it with five wins in a row. In between, they lost 11 of 15 games.
Not even Six Flags has a roller coaster quite like the Phillies.
Say this, though, as September dawns: The Phillies are firmly in the playoff hunt. With yet another burst of offense Tuesday night in Washington, they defeated the Nationals, 12-6, inching closer in the wild-card race and continuing to put pressure on the division-leading Atlanta Braves.
“That’s all you can ask for is a chance, right?” manager Joe Girardi said. “We have an opportunity in front of us. You think about some of the things we’ve been through this month, and we’ve managed to keep going.”
Indeed, the Phillies were playing without J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins. The former is out with an ankle injury; the latter had season-ending surgery for a lower-abdominal injury. Girardi patched together a lineup that included an outfielder at first base (Matt Vierling), a catcher who doesn’t have a homer in more than 1,000 minor-league plate appearances (Rafael Marchan), and a center fielder who cleared waivers last week (Jorge Bonifacio).
And the Phillies still scored at least seven runs for the sixth game in a row, their longest streak in 88 years. In 1933, with Hall of Famer Chuck Klein playing the role of Bryce Harper, they scored 60 runs in a seven-game span. This group has tallied 47 runs in a half-dozen games.
Trailing 5-3 through five innings, the Phillies scored six runs in the sixth. They tied the game on Marchan’s two-run homer against Nationals starter Patrick Corbin, pulled ahead on a bases-loaded two-run single by Harper, and poured it on from there. Vierling, called up from triple A earlier in the day, finished with four hits. Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller homered.
“We got contributions from everywhere,” Girardi said. “That’s the key to scoring in bunches.”
Vierling started the sixth-inning rally with a one-out single against Corbin. Marchan, making his 12th career start and fourth in a row in place of Realmuto (ankle) and Andrew Knapp (COVID-19), hit a 93-mph sinker out to left field. It was his second career homer, both of which have come in the big leagues.
“It’s a great feeling to hit that homer,” Marchan said. “If you never hit one in the minor leagues and you hit one here, it’s like one of the best feelings in the world and more when you help to create that rally to win the game.”
After Harper’s tiebreaking hit, McCutchen chipped in with an RBI double and scored on Odubel Herrera’s single for a 9-5 lead.
The Phillies have two paths to the postseason. In the wild-card race, they are 2½ games behind the Cincinnati Reds, who got rained out. In pursuit of a division title, they were three games behind the Braves, who were playing late at Dodger Stadium.
Vierling goes first
When Vierling made his major-league debut in June, he said he felt comfortable playing all three outfield positions. Since then, he has added the infield to his skill set.
Vierling made six starts at first base and eight at third for triple-A Lehigh Valley, all within the last two months. And it wasn’t until a few hours before the game that he found out he would be playing first — with Hoskins’ mitt, no less — against the Nationals.
“There were some nerves,” Vierling said. “Of course the first ball is skied to me at first base. It always finds you. There were definitely some nerves. But after that first one, it kind of started to go away and just play the game as usual.”
Harper picked up three hits, including a bunt single that preceded McCutchen’s fourth-inning homer. To that point, the Phillies had only two hits against Corbin and were trailing 3-0.
“I think it was a really good idea because you’ve got to get something going, right?” Girardi said. “We hadn’t had much going off of Corbin, and then Cutch hits a two-run homer and all of a sudden you feel like you’re in the game.”
Harper went 33-for-98 (.337) with 10 homers and 25 RBIs in 28 games in August. He has 14 hits in his last seven games and is batting .306 with a 1.014 OPS overall.
With one game left in the season series, the Phillies have won seven in a row over the Nationals, their longest streak since they won nine straight in 2009.
All seven victories have come on the road, too. The Phillies swept the Nationals in a four-game series in the nation’s capital from Aug. 1-4, outscoring them by 28-20. They have won the last two games by a 19-9 margin.
That’s a relief
Matt Moore lasted only 3⅓ innings and dropped the Phillies into an early hole by giving up five runs on five extra-base hits and five walks. He figures to remain the No. 5 starter with Zach Eflin (knee, COVID-19) likely out for the rest of the season.
But four relievers — Bailey Falter, Sam Coonrod, José Alvarado, and Héctor Neris — blanked the Nationals over the next 4⅔ scoreless innings. Enyel De Los Santos gave up a run in the ninth inning.
Lowering the ‘boom
Carter Kieboom staked the Nationals to a 5-2 lead with a two-run homer in the fourth inning. The young third baseman is quickly becoming a Phillies nemesis. He’s 11-for-29 (.379) with four home runs against them and 16-for-84 (.190) with two homers against everyone else this season.
If the Nationals’ rebuilding project goes according to plan, the Phillies will see a lot more of Kieboom over the next few years.