Phillies
Luke Williams’ walk-off home-run Tuesday is one of many exciting memories already this month for the red-hot Phillies. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The first two months of the Phillies’ 2021 season felt mostly like more of the same. The team was 25-29 and trying to patch a wide variety of issues with different types of duct tape. Half of the starting lineup is injured? Throw a couple of rookies into the fire, or just don’t even bother making a roster move. The back-end of the rotation is struggling mightily? Give Vince Velasquez approximately his twenty-eighth shot at establishing himself and completely turn your plans for Spencer Howard inside-out. And who could’ve predicted sacrificing defense for offense would be problematic when hitting across the league was at an all-time low?

On June 1, problems were plentiful and solutions were not. But ever since the calendar flipped, effectively welcoming in the dog days of summer, the Phillies have been living up to their potential. The team could easily be 9-0 in the month; their two losses were a 2-1 defeat and a game they led 5-4 in the eighth. Their current reality is pretty sweet, though. The Phillies have won seven of nine and four in a row. They’ve rattled off three straight series wins, including sweeping the Yankees for the first time since 1997.

And they’ve climbed back over .500 for the first time since May 19 (22-21). That, of course, is the mark the franchise has desperately been trying to claw over once and for all for the last decade. The Phillies are hoping for more than just an 82-win season. And it’s far from a guarantee they stay on the right side of .500 from this point on. Yet, the road to success has to start somewhere, and it has a lot of hurdles to clear. Now, Philadelphia has some momentum going for the first time since a five-game winning streak from May 3-7. They went 8-14 the rest of the month, a cautionary tale for this current run of form. Being on a winning streak is nice, but the Phillies can’t let up.

It’s not just that the Phillies are winning again, nor that Citizens Bank Park is packing nearly 40,000 fans again, that has sparked the most optimism about the team since a 5-1 start. It’s no secret that strikeouts and home runs are taking over the sport to an insane degree, and the Phillies haven’t been an exception for most of the year. Their first inning Saturday was an enjoyable throwback: each of the first four batters singled, and they were followed by a walk, sac fly, and two more singles, driving in four runs in the process. Each of the first three batters singled in the first inning Sunday. The Phillies had four runs and seven hits — all singles — through two innings both days this weekend. They hadn’t scored a first-inning run in fourteen straight before Saturday.

But it’s not just how many hits you have. It’s when you get them that ultimately matters when it comes down to winning games. The Phils rattled off three-straight walk-off wins. Rookie Luke Williams was the feel-good story of the sport when he launched a walk-off two-run homer with the team down to their final out and staring down a potential 1-0 loss to Atlanta on Tuesday. Blowing a 7-2 lead on Saturday would’ve been arguably the most soul-crushing loss of the season; the Phillies probably don’t start as strong as they did Sunday if Jean Segura (who’s hitting over .333, by the way) doesn’t bail Héctor Neris and everybody else out with his second straight walk-off hit in the bottom of the 10th.

The team is also doing a better job taking advantage of their strong starting pitching. The Phillies are 4-2 with Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin on the mound in June. That record was hovering around .500 for the first two months of the year. It’s no secret that a three-headed monster is Philadelphia’s biggest strength, but what they do doesn’t matter if the offense and bullpen don’t seal the deal. A rare seven (!) off-day month has allowed Joe Girardi to shuffle his rotation to maximize his big three. Nola was elite on Saturday, going 7.2 scoreless innings, and you could argue that Wheeler is the best pitcher in the NL not named Jacob deGrom.

Despite the strong competition (five games against the Braves and Yankees this weekend followed by three-game road series against the Dodgers and Giants), all that rest is another reason why June seems tailor-made to be a great month for the Phillies. The warm weather and rising attendance seem to have awoken their bats* (*not counting Rhys Hoskins, currently mired in an 0-26 slump). The bullpen is still suspect but still better than last year’s trainwreck. Well, for the most part.

And starting pitching is excellent thanks to Velasquez’s surprise emergence and the successful piggyback strategy of combining Spencer Howard’s starts with long-relief appearances from Ranger Suárez. The latter has done so well he’s pitched himself into a bigger role, working the 8th inning Saturday. José Alavardo’s inconsistency means the Phils would ideally find another lefty reliever; trade prices will be incredibly expensive for ‘pen help to the incredibly high demand, so if the Phillies can strike internal gold, it would be a major boon. Remember what Seranthony Dominguez did for the bullpen in 2018? If Suárez can be half as good as that, the impact would be substantial.

See where the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park ranks in Vendetta’s MLB stadium ranking.

The Phillies always figured to be a streaky team in 2021. For them to succeed, it’s a matter of getting more out of the good runs than the bad ones. And make no mistake about it, the Phillies are officially in one of the former stretches. It won’t last forever. And yes, it hasn’t made up much ground in the NL East standings. But it’s an encouraging sign of organizational health for the rest of the season. And it opens up much brighter paths than the one the Phillies were going down two weeks ago.

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