Good morning, Phillies fans. Well, that was some weekend, wasn't it? The Phillies accomplished something that hadn't been done in 24 years: They swept a four-game series from the Pirates, completing the brooming with Aaron Altherr's walkoff single in the 11th inning Sunday. Make it eight wins in nine games at Citizens Bank Park for the Phils — and 13 wins in 16 games overall since their 1-4 start.
Manager Gabe Kapler says his players are having fun, a point amplified after every victory by the dance music, smoke machine and laser lights that turn the clubhouse into, well, a club. It's exceedingly early to draw many conclusions about any team, but it's also no longer laughable to suggest the Phillies could be playing meaningful games deep into the summer.
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On March 13, 2010, I filed a story from spring training about Charlie Manuel's ninth-inning options in case closer Brad Lidge wasn't healthy by opening day. With that, I left the Phillies beat and moved to Boston to begin covering the Red Sox.
Eight years later, I'm back. And I couldn't be more excited.
For those who aren't familiar with my work, I covered the Phillies from the autumn of 2005 through the spring of 2010 for The News Journal in Wilmington. My timing couldn't have been better. During my first 4-1/2 years here, the Phils made three postseason runs and played in two World Series, winning it all in 2008. They were led by Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth. They made baseball relevant again in Philadelphia and raised the bar for a franchise that wasn't exactly used to winning. And I was privileged to have a front-row seat for all of it.
Life has a funny way of bringing you back to where you started. The Phillies are a much different organization from when I left. They bid overdue farewells to the core players of that halcyon era. They finally got with the times and joined baseball's analytics revolution. They endured a lot of losing over the past five years.
But as I return to town, grateful for having received this tremendous opportunity at the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, it has occurred to me that this is as fascinating a time as any period in Phillies history. It's a time when we find out if this young core — Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and Maikel Franco — is as good as the last one. Gabe Kapler, the manager who is leading them, is an outside-the-box thinker, the likes of which we haven't seen around here in a while, maybe ever. Once again, it feels as if the timing of my arrival is impeccable.
And so, it's fair to say I am thrilled to have joined Matt Breen, Bob Brookover and the rest of our dedicated, hard-working staff in bringing you as much news, analysis, opinion and perspective as possible on the Phillies. To those who already subscribe to Extra Innings, thank you. To those who haven't, please join us on this ride. I can't wait to see how this next chapter in Phillies history turns out.
Curious about the mood around the Phillies? After Sunday's victory, Kapler said it was "the proudest day that I've had of our men." With another win Tuesday night, these Phillies can become the first team in franchise history to start a season 10-1 at home, as Bob Brookover writes.
Aaron Altherr spent the first six innings Sunday on the bench, exactly the place you might expect someone with three hits in the last two weeks to reside. But he delivered three hits over the final five innings, including the game-winner. It was fitting that Altherr played the hero. As Matt Breen writes, he's one of several Phillies hitters who has not yet gotten hot.
Pitching, particularly the starting rotation, has carried the Phillies. On Saturday, Aaron Nola continued a roll that would leave even aces of the past green with envy. On Sunday, Nick Pivetta had everything under control.
Everyone knows that Rhys Hoskins is the Phillies' best hitter. But check out the damage he has been doing in two-strike counts. I asked him the other day about his two-strike approach.
Victor Arano finally allowed a baserunner Sunday, snapping a streak of 32 consecutive batters retired by the young reliever. If Arano keeps that up, he might someday be as well-known in Philadelphia as his late uncle was in Mexico.
Within this story from Friday night, starter Ben Lively revealed that he recently received pitching advice from an unlikely source.
Tomorrow: Homestand continues with first of three games vs. Diamondbacks, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta vs. Zack Greinke in a duel of past Cy Young winners, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Another look at the Phillies' powder blue throwback jerseys, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Braves visit Citizens Bank Park for opener of a three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Just in case there's any question about Rhys Hoskins' place among the best hitters in baseball, consider this: Since his major-league debut Aug. 10 of last year, the Phillies left fielder has a 1.038 OPS in 299 plate appearances. That ranks third among all players with at least 250 plate appearances in that span, trailing only Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez (1.088) and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (1.080).
"With Hoskins at first base, I saw no need for [Carlos] Santana at such a large contract when they could have solved their catching problem by signing [Jonathan] Lucroy, who was a free agent! What do you think? –emailed question from Jim Amari in Medford, N.J.
Answer: Thanks, Jim. It's always a fascinating exercise to look back and analyze an offseason move once you know how the free-agent and trade markets shaped up. When the Phillies reached a three-year, $60 million agreement with Santana in mid-December, it seemed as though the hot stove might finally be ready to percolate. But it remained frozen, leaving an All-Star lineup of free agents, including Lucroy, unemployed until after spring training began. In hindsight, the best move Santana made was to sign early. Could the Phillies have gotten him for less money — or gone in a different direction entirely — if they had waited out the market? Possibly. But they liked Santana's on-base ability, defense and leadership in the clubhouse. Despite his slow start, I haven't gotten the sense that the Phillies are experiencing buyer's remorse.