PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Kyle Schwarber mashed the first pitch for the Phillies under their new Canadian manager for a home run and Bryson Stott sent the final pitch of a weekend sweep into the right field seats.
Make it 3-0 for interim manger Rob Thomson.
Philadelphia’s season — with a team loaded with All-Stars, an MVP and the fourth-highest payroll in baseball — just might not be dead yet.
The Phillies put everything together in a three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels and showed flashes of why they were a trendy preseason playoff pick following a free-agent spending spree.
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The front end of the rotation delivered: Zack Wheeler struck out nine in six innings in Saturday’s win and Zach Eflin tossed eight shutout innings on Friday.
The weekend ended with an impressive comeback capped by Bryce Harper’s tying grand slam in the eighth inning followed by Stott’s winning, three-run homer with two outs in the ninth.
Where were these Phillies during the season’s first two months?
It’s a question president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski surely wondered last week before he fired manager Joe Girardi after two-plus seasons without a whiff of the postseason. The Phillies had lost 12 of 17 and dropped well out of the NL East race when Dombrowski dismissed Girardi, who won a World Series with the Yankees, and promoted Girardi’s long-time bench coach and close friend in Thomson.
Three wins, 26 runs, and a comeback that had kids crying later, and the Phillies entered Monday 4+ games out of the second NL wild card. Yes, the wins came against an Angeles team that left Philly on an 11-game losing streak and Mike Trout in a career-worst slump. But the rest of the schedule might actually break in the Phillies’ favor.
”I hate talking about it’s early, it’s early,” Harper said. ”It’s not so early. We’ve got to go. We’ve got to play our game and understand that we’re a good team in here.”
The Phillies open a three-game series Tuesday at NL Central-leading Milwaukee. Then comes six games at home against the sub-.500 Diamondbacks and Marlins. Then four games at Washington (only the Reds are worse in the NL) and two games at Texas.
That’s 13 straight games from June 10-22 against teams with losing records.
And, yes, even with four straight wins, the Phillies have a losing record at 25-29.
The 58-year-old Thomson is charged with getting the Phillies and their $233 million payrolls back over .500 and into the playoffs for the first time since 2011, the longest postseason drought in the National League.
Thomson is set on giving some of the younger Phillies regular playing time, with Stott paying immediate results.
Stott, one of Harper’s closest friends, hit his first big league home run on Friday and followed with the winner on Sunday. The 24-year-old infielder made the Phillies out of spring training only to get sent to the minors in late April after Girardi rarely played him. Stott started all three games against Los Angeles at shortstop and doesn’t figure to leave the lineup any time soon.
”Being able to put our trust in our young guys the last couple of days and really let them play, it’s been great,” Harper said.
Girardi stuck with veterans such as Didi Gregorious while Thomson played Mickey Moniak twice over Odubel Herrera in center field against the Angles and started Nick Maton at second base in the opener. Maton sprained his right shoulder on a diving catch and went on the injured list. Thomson has also stuck with Alec Bohm and let the error-prone third baseman try and swing his way out of a slump.
”I’m a little bit different than Joe. I’m not going to go into the differences, but I like to think that I’m prepared and I’m a good communicator with these guys,” Thomson said. ”The plan is to make sure that all these guys know where they’re supposed to be at any given time whether it’s our bullpen, the lineup, whatever it is. I just want to make sure that the guys are prepared.”
They were prepared against the Angels, and certainly Harper’s three homers and eight RBIs over the three games covered a lot of blemishes. But problems persist: Nick Castellanos and Schwarber need to start hitting and Dombrowski should scour the trade market to tighten the bullpen; Corey Knebel gave up the go-ahead run in the ninth).
But for three games in June, there was a reminder of how good it could be in Philly.