Six games aren’t supposed to be enough to draw reliable conclusions in sports, and especially in baseball. But after six games, we can safely declare a few truths about the Phillies.
--The offense is so good that it might just be historic.
--Questions persist about the pitching.
--More often than not, Bryce Harper will do something that leaves you talking.
All of those points were reiterated again Friday night in a 10-4 rout of the Minnesota Twins. The Phillies scored five runs in the first inning, and like the steady and often heavy rain that fell at Citizens Bank Park, they never let up, forcing Twins pitchers to throw 192 pitches. But they also gave up 11 hits, including five by Jorge Polanco, the first player to hit for the cycle against the Phillies since Washington’s Brad Wilkerson on April 6, 2005.
And Harper, after going hitless through four at-bats, including a strikeout in the sixth inning after going to a 3-0 count, scored from first base on a seventh-inning single by Rhys Hoskins. It was the sort of heads-up baserunning and unrelenting hustle that characterized so many previous Phillies fan favorites and even left manager Gabe Kapler to invoke one of Chase Utley’s signature moments.
“We were watching video of Utley in Atlanta scoring from second on the Ryan Howard chopper,” Kapler said, referring to the play that prompted Harry Kalas’ famous “Chase Utley, you are ‘The Man’” call. “Flashed that gutsy, taking-advantage-of-a-defender that kind of slow-played it a little bit.”
The Phillies have won five of their first six games. They have outscored opponents by a 49-26 margin. They have scored at least five runs in each of their first six games of a season for the first time since 1898. And they haven’t lost in four games at home.
They also haven’t had an opposing starter go more than five innings against them. Twins starter Jake Odorizzi didn’t stand a chance. Not after throwing 36 pitches to the first seven batters and recording only two outs. That was enough for Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli, who hooked the veteran right-hander and burned through his bullpen in the opener of the three-game series.
“We had a lot of that last year, too, especially toward the beginning. But we also brought in some good hitters,” said Hoskins, who atoned for his costly eighth-inning error at first base Wednesday in Washington by notching three hits, including a bases-clearing single in the seventh. “It starts with [Andrew McCutchen] at the top, taking at-bats leading off a game, leading off an inning, and it’s pretty contagious.”
Once the Phillies scored five runs in the first inning, the game looked like a laugher. But starter Nick Pivetta allowed the Twins to get back within two runs at 6-4 on a two-run homer by Max Kepler, a solo shot by Polanco, and a two-out RBI infield single by Jake Cave. It took strong work from the bullpen and a three-run outburst in the seventh inning for the Phillies to pull away.
In the modern era, defined as post-1900, the 1930 Phillies hold the single-season franchise record with 944 runs scored. More recently, the 2007 team racked up 892 runs. The beloved 1993 club scored 877 runs.
These Phillies? Through six games, they’re on pace for 1,323 runs.
So, yes, they can mash.
“The story tonight is [seeing] 192 pitches. The league average is 140-ish,” Kapler said. “That's what we've done the entire season. We've grinded down pitchers. We've gotten big hits. But it's the deep counts. It's the walks. It's the great at-bats that have carried us thus far.”
Take the first inning, for example. McCutchen drew a seven-pitch walk and scored from first on Jean Segura’s line-drive double off the right-field scoreboard. After Harper struck out, Hoskins singled home Segura. J.T. Realmuto walked. Odubel Herrera lined out, but not before working a seven-pitch at-bat. Cesar Hernandez walked to load the bases. And when the Twins turned to the bullpen, Maikel Franco notched a two-run double and another run scored on an error to make it 5-0.
Harper’s baserunning highlight came on a seemingly routine single to left field by Hoskins. McCutchen and Segura scored easily, and as Harper reached third base, he realized that Twins left fielder Eddie Rosario was taking his time getting the ball back to the infield. Harper took off from third base and scored.
“You can’t teach that,” Hoskins said. “I asked [third-base coach] Dusty [Wathan] if he sent him, and he didn’t. It was all Bryce.”