Bryce Harper’s torrid run (6 straight games with an extra-base hit) is one of many catalysts for the suddenly red-hot (and first place!) Philadelphia Phillies. (Rich Schultz / Getty Images)

Phillies Became Fun, 1st In NL East In Perfect Week: 7th-Day Stretch

In a 162 game season, it’s hard to believe just one week could dramatically shift on a team’s fate. On the rare occasion when it happens, it’s often difficult to find the right words to describe it. Weeks like these are not all-determining on their own; good teams can have terrible ones and bad teams can have great ones. But regardless of a team’s status, those great weeks are always incredible to witness. It’s been a long time since the Philadelphia Phillies had one of them. At the end of July, they sat 4.5 games out of first place in the National League East; they were closer to the fourth-place Nationals than the first-place Mets. They had not won eight consecutive games since 2010. And the team was only filling a fraction of the 43,045 seats at beautiful Citizens Bank Park.

Everything has changed in August. The Phillies have been bent, but instead of breaking, have become a brick wall. Even with their first baseman playing sporadically due to a groin injury, their shortstop being hit by a 95 MPH pitch on his bad elbow, and their red-hot left fielder on the Injured List, the Phillies have been scoring at will. They’re launching home runs night after night, and most of them haven’t been wall scrappers.

The usual suspects have been potent, highlighted by a late-season MVP push from Bryce Harper. Perhaps more importantly, the depth has been there too; players like Ronald Torreyes, Matt Moore, and Brad Miller have delivered in key moments throughout this streak. By re-signing Realmuto and Didi Gregorius in the offseason, the Phillies made a bet they could outscore their defensive woes. It’s been a winning bet as of late; during their win streak, the Phillies have made seven errors but scored 54 runs, homering nine times in the Mets series.

On deadline day, Dave Dombrowski made another big bet, trading the talented Spencer Howard to Texas for two pitchers enjoying excellent seasons in Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy. Dombrowski knew those two alone couldn’t fix the Phillies pitching depth, especially with Zach Eflin’s status up in the air. But so far, Gibson has pitched 6.2 and 6 innings in two starts as a Phillie. Matt Moore, Vince Velasquez, Chase Anderson, and Howard combined to go six-plus innings twice this season for the Phillies. He’s allowed three runs and driven in one. Kennedy has been dicier but is two for two in save opportunities as a Phillie. That’ll do.

Philadelphia’s eight-game win streak has been all over the map. It started with a 15-run outburst on August 1st; their most recent victory was a 3-0 decision. Twice against the Nationals the Phillies overcame 9th inning deficits, something they’ve made a habit out of this season. In another game in D.C., they rallied from an early 3-0 deficit, taking control of the game with their bats. Outstanding starting pitching was the catalyst for two of their victories against the Mets. In the other game, the bullpen dominated, then nearly blew the game in cataclysmic fashion, but finished the win in the end.

It wasn’t always pretty, but no one in Philadelphia cares right now. No statistic has been more encouraging than the sights and sounds at Citizens Bank Park this weekend. The Phillies drew over 30,000 fans in each game of this marquee series with the Mets, including a season-high of just over 39,000 on Sunday. Yes, there have been a lot of visiting fans, and the annual alumni weekend on the first weekend of August is always a notable draw. But the atmosphere this weekend was truly Postseason caliber. Other than maybe the Opening Weekend of 2019, it’s hard to remember the last time Citizens Bank Park was like this. The roar of the crowd got louder with every passing batter. And nobody in attendance Friday wouldn’t believe that they didn’t help will Bryce Harper to launch an eventual game-winning two-run homer by serenading him with chants of “MVP! MVP!”

The road back to the Postseason won’t get easier any time soon. A difficult week against the stacked Dodgers and equally hot Reds awaits the Phillies. There’s hope Rhys Hoskins, Didi Gregorius, and Andrew McCutchen will be ready soon, but that’s not a guarantee. The Phillies only have three pitchers on their active roster who have been starters all season. Ranger Suárez’s return to the rotation has been largely promising, but with Chase Anderson going on the injured list, there’s an unaccounted for rotation spot that someone will have to fill.

Joe Girardi will have his work cut out for him. Some of his decisions (trusting Matt Moore out of the bullpen on Wednesday) have worked. Others (turning to Mauricio Llovera in an attempt to rest Ian Kennedy on Saturday) have… not. There’s a larger element of trial and error for everybody in the dog days of an August that’s on the heels of a pandemic-shortened season. Everybody is dealing with their own challenges right now. A team built to hit and rely on their top-three starting pitchers have thrived despite blows to both. The Phillies’ resilience, unquestioned throughout this season, is perhaps their biggest asset down the strength, if only because it’s largely not dependent on who’s playing on any given day.

Everyone has been wearing their hearts on their sleeves this weekend, from celebrations to homer hats to, um, other things. All of them (save for maybe the last one) are a far better alternative to having them broken. This week means so much to the 100K+ plus that packed Citizens Bank Park over the last three days because of that aforementioned gap between success stories. Harper’s home run surge is eerily similar to Ryan Howard’s best days. Jean Segura has the same swagger on both sides of the ball that Jimmy Rollins once brought to the ballpark. Kyle Gibson’s early returns are a promising reminder of what Joe Blanton brought to the club thirteen years ago.

After being swept by Philadelphia, the Mets fell from first to third in the NL East in three days flat. Could they have avoided this with a different approach at the deadline?

The most obvious comparison to the glory days came on Sunday. The Phillies retired Roy Halladay’s number #34, then watched Zack Wheeler deliver a Halladay-esque performance. It came exactly eleven years to the date of a Halladay victory in Philly against the Mets, too. New York managed two hits and could hardly get the ball out of the infield. It may have been the best pitching performance by a Phillie since Halladay’s perfect game. It was the perfect ending to the perfect week the Phillies have been chasing for years. The joy that’s come from it is exactly why the team has pursued it so hard over the last few years; and why, if it’s here to stay, it will definitely be worth it.

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