For the first time in over a month, the Phillies won more than one game in a row this week. They apparently liked that feeling so much, they decided to win two more games in a row immediately following the previous two games they won.
It just so happens all four of those games were against one team, the Brewers, who entered Citizens Bank Park on Monday in first place in the National League Central. The first three games were all one-win victories in which the Phillies held big leads early only to watch Milwaukee comebacks fall one run short each night, with the final game punctuated by a ridiculously good complete game shutout by Zack Wheeler.
The Phillies don’t author four-game sweeps very often and the big question following a surprising four-game sweep against a good time like the Brewers is always, “Will it carry forward? Will the team use this encouraging four-game stretch as a springboard to more consistent play? Is it a sign of better things to come?”
Or, as has been their recent history, is it more a random anomaly than a portend of better days?
Last year, the Phillies swept the Washington Nationals in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park as part of their late August-early September run of 10 wins in 11 games. It really felt the team had turned a corner, but following that four game sweep, they split a four-game series with the Mets, split a two-gamer with Boston, then played an insane seven-game series in Miami in which they lost five games and, essentially, the season. Had their schedule not been decimated by that ridiculous, COVID-induced, seven-game series, maybe the Phils would have maintained their momentum. Then again, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
In 2019, the Phillies swept a four game series from the Mets at home, the last two on walk off homers (Jean Segura’s famous blast that sent Mike Francessa into a tizzy) in late June. They followed that up with series losses in Miami and Atlanta, a series win at the Mets and a series loss against the Nationals at home.
In 2018, the Phils swept the Pirates in an early four-game tilt at Citizens Bank Park, one of Gabe Kapler’s first series as manager (it’s hard to remember that after his inauspicious start, that four-game sweep brought their record to 14-7). The Phils followed that sweep with four straight series losses, to Arizona and Atlanta at home and to the Marlins and Nationals on the road. However, the Phils then took four straight against the Giants at home, their second four-game sweep of the season. A record of 11-15 in their next 26 games followed.
You get the point. Over the last few seasons, the Phillies have been unable to extend winning streaks. In fact, the last time they had a winning streak of at least seven games was in 2012, and their last six-game winning streak was in ‘19.
No one expects the team to rattle off 10-game winning streaks as a matter of habit, but good teams are able to build momentum. But are the Phillies a “good” team?
Winning streaks require a number of things to go right. Hitters need to hit with runners in scoring position. So far this year, the Phils are hitting .233 with RISP, 19th in MLB. Starting pitchers need to pitch deep into games. So far, the top three starters are getting the job done...
Just in case there's any question about the strength of the #Phillies' roster: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin have combined to throw 130 innings, more than any starter trio in baseball. Next: Dodgers' Trevor Bauer, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias (121 2/3 innings).— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) May 6, 2021
...but Chase Anderson, Vince Velasquez and Matt Moore have failed to provide the necessary depth to keep the bullpen well rested. Relievers also need to get the job done and, unfortunately for the Phils, injuries have forced Joe Girardi to use a mishmash of relief pitchers in recent days. However, while some of the middle relievers turned big leads into tight games this week, Hector Neris and Sam Coonrod saved the team’s bacon with huge five-out saves during the sweep. It’s also unreasonable to expect the Phillies to continue their string of one-run victories. Their 9-6 mark is among the best in baseball, but those types of narrow escapes are difficult to sustain.
In short, the Phillies need to play better and get healthier. Bryce Harper and Jean Segura need to return to the lineup (Segura will be back this weekend), Andrew McCutchen and Alec Bohm need to continue to heat up, the back of the rotation needs more outings like Velasquez’ six-inning performance this week, and Archie Bradley needs to return to the ‘pen as quickly as possible (he could be back as soon as next week).
Despite the four-game sweep, the Phils’ ability to sustain it and keep the ball rolling feels iffy at best and, if history is our guide, momentum isn’t really a “thing” when it comes to this baseball team.