Phillies baseball is back and I absolutely love it
If you told me in 2015 that the Philadelphia Phillies would be a top-two team in the city within a decade, I would’ve called the cops and told them an unstable individual was harassing me because at that point, the Phillies were the laughingstock of both Philadelphia and Major League Baseball. The golden age of Phillies baseball had ended as quickly as it had begun. The team made headlines – not for quality wins and playoff aspirations – but for playing historically awful baseball.
Now, four games into the 2021 season, the Phillies are my favorite team to watch in Philadelphia. The Eagles are falling apart, the Sixers have too many expectations and toxic Twitter exchanges for me to enjoy myself, and the Flyers, well, they play hockey (and they also suck). The craziest part? I don’t particularly like baseball. If I lived in a city without a baseball team, I could easily live with that, but I don’t. The Bryce Harper signing piqued my interest, and my cohost Sam has helped me relearn the game I loved as a kid. The Kapler years and year one under Girardi showed promise but ultimately flopped. This year the team is clearly playing the games differently, despite the lineup not changing much at all. Even I can see that, and I am absolutely loving it.
Yes, I know it is four games in. Yes, I know there are 158 games left. Just shut up and join me in enjoying this stellar start to the season and taking a look at what exactly has changed for the Phillies to allow for success so early on and, more importantly, has made them watchable.
Dave Dombrowski came in and did in a few months what Matt Klentak could not or refused to do in 5 years as GM: strengthened the bullpen. Strengthening the worst bullpen in MLB history is a low bar, but Double D genuinely improved the unit. Signing Archie Bradley, trading for Jose Alvarado, and exiling Cole Irvin were the three best things that happened to this team this offseason. Resigning JT and Didi was awesome too, but those moves were literal no-brainers in my opinion. In the first four games of the season, the Phillies bullpen gave up one run. ONE (1). RUN. Last season, you could easily expect a minimum of one run per game from our bullpen. Now instead of Jared Hughes sprinting himself tired on his way to the mound, we’ve got Jose Alvarado throwing triple-digit heat and 96mph cutters. Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin are dealing so far, and it’s nice to see them finally get some support in the later innings.
Now that the Phillies have locked the analytics nerds in a closet somewhere in the basement of the Holiday Inn across the street, I can finally enjoy watching a stacked lineup actually play baseball. No launch angle, no curveball machines, just good, clean hitting. In four games, the Phils only have one home run, courtesy of backup catcher Andrew Knapp. All of our offensive production has come from manufactured runs on the base paths, not nuclear strikes deep over the outfield wall. Home runs are great, don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Bryce go yard every at-bat. But pretty much every hitter in the lineup, even Roman Quinn for god’s sake, has been taking professional at-bats. Drawing walks, hit and runs, attempted bunts; the Phillies under Joe Girardi are playing baseball the way it is meant to be played. Even the kid Alec Bohm looks like Joey Votto in the box at times. Even when our guys don’t get on base, more often than not they’ve made the pitcher work for it. In the Atlanta series, no Braves starter made it past 5 innings pitched. 20 pitches an inning isn’t the way to succeed for a pitcher, but our hitters make that their only course of action.
Phillies fans are back at the ballpark for the first time in two years and man does it make a difference. Even at 25% capacity, you can hear them loud and clear over the broadcast. I know the players love it, and so does everybody else. Combine that with the positive vibes heading into the season and Phillies fans find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, to say the least. We are not a week into the season and the Phils have become something like a haven of positivity for Philly fans, regardless of where baseball may fall on our respective levels of fandom or expertise. To close out, here are two very different kinds of fan whom I love and relate to equally.
162-0. Book it.
Mandatory Credit: Yahoo Sports