PHILADELPHIA — Aside from the Mets being the Mets again, there is something very different about this Phillies team.
Making the playoffs, as it has turned out, hasn’t been much of a struggle.
Rather than the down-to-the-wire need to win to clinch a playoff spot, the Phillies have won seven of their last nine games, including Saturday’s not-so-wet 7-5 victory over those sad-sack Metropolitans, to drop their playoff-clinching magic number to two.
With a week left in the season, the playoffs have become inevitable, and it’s almost as certain that the Phillies will enter as the top Wild Card entry, the fourth-overall seed in the National League.
It is at times like these that some people look to the skies – as apparent new closer Jose Alvarado did again Saturday – and thank their lucky stars. … Not to mention, themselves, as one guy after the game Saturday felt like doing.
“When I talk to people on base or anything like that, or certain guys or teammates or anybody, I am just so fortunate to actually be in this spot right now,” Bryce Harper said after willingly hopping into a clubhouse interview spot. “It’s just the way my offseason went, the way my rehab went … this is all just a bonus for me.”
Maybe it was the happy timing that had him in such a grateful mood. For Harper chose a day with a South Philly cyclonic wind to drill a line drive to right that loudly bounced off the facing of the second deck for an eye-opening home run.
Yes, into the wall of wind. It went down as home run No. 20 in a season in which he went several weeks straight without one, leading to questions of whether coming back so quickly off Tommy John surgery on his elbow was such a Bryce idea.
Turns out, it was exactly that. The Phillies’ force of nature leader looks a tad stronger now than he did a couple of months ago. In that respect, his timing seems right on schedule.
“I’m very, very happy with the 20 homers that I’m at right now, and we have a couple of games to go, so hopefully I’ll get a couple more,” Harper said. “It’s just the way my season has gone, with a full-blown Tommy John surgery and coming back and playing the way I am, I’m very happy with that. I’m just fortunate to have the training staff that I do, and the people around me and the work I was able to put in this offseason with my elbow, in regards to getting back as quickly as possible and doing it as smart as possible. … I’m trying to keep my body under me and my legs under me, after not being able to work out this past offseason, which was pretty tough for me. And not having a spring training, all of it.
“I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
Where is he? Harper’s two-hit, three-RBI day has him at .292 with the 20 home runs and 69 RBIs and .882 OPS. This after the UCL surgery from which he returned sooner than most MLB players could hope for.
Asked if things have gone so well that he even surprised himself, Harper paused and finally said, “I don’t know. I just … I try to work as hard as I can and to be the best that I can; in the weight room, on the baseball field. I just try to do the best in all that I can.”
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Jose Alvarado as the closer? Well, not all the time.
According to Rob Thomson, that’s all about adjusting to the righties/lefties lineup that opponents show. That’s why, he’s saying, Craig Kimbrel has pitched in the eighth inning on more than rare occasion lately rather than the ninth. And Alvarado has been that last reliever.
But Alvarado now has 10 saves, a career high. And unlike Kimbrel of late, he hasn’t had to gain those saves by first getting himself in trouble with walks or hits allowed first.
“The moment doesn’t affect him,” Thomson said of Alvarado. “He has been getting some save opportunities just because that pocket (of opposing hitters) has come up … and maybe Kimbrel’s pocket has come up in the eighth inning.”
Oh. But then again…
“His stuff his back,” Thomson added about Alvarado. “The cutter is back, the strike-throwing ability is back. … We have a lot of confidence in him right now. We just have to make sure that whatever has gone on with his arm this year doesn’t come back.”
Alvarado missed time earlier in the summer with elbow inflammation.
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NOTES >> Zack Wheeler was credited with his 21st “quality start” of the season. … The Phillies are now 17 games above .500, a season-high. … Harper on his homer: “A pitch over the plate, 3-2, and I put a good swing on it. The wind was blowing pretty hard … I was just trying to hit it through the wind as best as possible.”
Yeah, smacking it 451 feet off rebounding off the facing of the second deck wasn’t too bad.
Source: Berkshire mont