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Phillies column: Loss ends streak but hopes should rise for fans of deep, powerful team

PHILADELPHIA — Look beyond the seven straight victories going into Wednesday afternoon’s game at Citizens Bank Park. Meh, they’ve done that before this season.

Dare to shrug away the fact that in 10 of the previous 11 Phillies games, and even 18 of the last 21 … they won. Feel free to enjoy, just don’t judge. Not now, not yet.

No matter how brightly the sun is shining on the South Philadelphia baseball landscape, it’s still May, and it is indeed a marathon rather than a sprint in this sport. That adage was again proven true Wednesday with an unexpected, 5-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, unexpected.

“I don’t think you’re going to look around the room here and see any happy faces,” Kyle Schwarber said after a ninth-inning Phillies comeback attempt yielded a run but ended with two runners in scoring position. “Everyone’s disappointed after a loss. It doesn’t matter if we’re 10 games above .500 or 10 games below .500, a loss is a loss. Our expectation every time we walk out of the clubhouse is to try to win the game. We’re expecting to win the game and that’s the mindset you have to have, especially in this game, when you play so many of them.”

The last two years, the Phillies appreciated the length of the season, which gave them ample opportunity to recover from relatively slow starts. This spring, despite back-to-back losses at home to top rival Atlanta to open the season, it’s been quite the opposite story.

And almost hidden behind the superb pitching, timely hitting, obvious power, improved fielding and certainly favorable early opponents, there is one factor that separates this Phillies team from even their last two.

First, though, the schedule.

It has undeniably helped, with early series against wobbly Washington and awful Colorado and those loveable, laughable Chicago White Sox interspersed with meetings against so-so Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Home sweeps of the Rockies and White Sox begat a seven-game win streak. An almost unhittable Zack Wheeler, who somehow lost his first three decisions, and even better Ranger Suarez kept it going, with a wholly admirable road trip that included a sweep of the Padres and two out of three against the Angels, before a return home and another series sweep, this time over the Giants.

They were going for another series sweep Wednesday against the Blue Jays, and despite a superb outing by their starter Chris Bassitt, the Phillies rallied late to get to within, in Schwarber’s words, “one swing away.”

Even if you fear American League East opponents of the near future like the bully boys of Baltimore or the resurrected Yankees, know that at 26-12 the Phillies still have the best record in the major leagues. Yes, better than even those bad dudes from the Left Coast, the Dodgers.

But again, it is May. Glittering standings numbers are nice, if lacking in impact with the season less than 40 games old.

The Phillies are not without their shortcomings, what with Nick Castellanos again doing his special act of plate inconsistency, though better of late. And hey, wasn’t that a red-hot Trea Turner who messed up a hamstring last week, then sort of stunningly announced he’s going to miss at least the next six weeks?

Yet the challenging “problem” lately has been what to do about a Phillies team with six effective starting pitchers, and a bullpen that can’t get enough work.

Spencer Turnbull was signed to be a reliever, but he’s always been a starter, and in starting the season in place of injured Taijuan Walker, he showed to be one of the Phillies’ best starters … no small accomplishment here. But now that Walker’s healthy …

“Good problem to have,” manager Rob Thomson said with a curled lip.

Beyond that, Bryce Harper is smacking the ball to all parts of the field, and hitting it out of the field for home runs in three consecutive games before this one. His latest was a grand slam Tuesday night that was part of a 10-1 win for fifth (sixth?) starter Cristopher Sanchez, who showed his appreciation.

“It’s amazing being side by side with a superstar like Bryce,” Sanchez said. “It’s an amazing feeling. We just have too many good guys, like, the bench, everybody’s good. We have two lineups.”

And with that, Sanchez hit upon that new X-factor.

A reason, one that Harper himself promoted Tuesday, that tears down the argument of it being too early to get too excited about this Phillies team.

A key component, one less obvious than most, in the argument that this club could and should see itself as being in prime position to compete with the likes of the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Orioles, etc. for a championship come the fall. It’s why a premier player like Turner can go out with a significant injury, and the wins keep coming anyway.

It’s also what Harper has been waiting for.

“If you look at a lot of really good teams in the league, they have depth,” Harper said Tuesday. “If that’s starting pitching depth, or infield or hitting or anything, I think a lot of really good teams have that. I think (team president Dave) Dombrowski has done a great job of rounding out our roster, making sure we have those pieces and that depth in the minor leagues that can come up at any point and help us win.

“I said a couple of years ago that we have to rely on our young guys and minor league guys to be able to develop and come up and be able to help at any point, and I think they’re doing a good job of that now.”

It is indeed, that time. The Phillies went to a World Series in 2022 and stretched a National League Championship Series to seven games in 2023. They are better in 2024. There are many reasons. The most important one is how deeply enriched they’ve become.

Contact Rob Parent at rparent@delcotimes.com


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