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The Phillies are putting the FUN back in fundamentals

The Phillies are playing a super crisp brand of baseball right now.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Hernandez is getting dunked on by everyone right now.

Ahead of the Phillies’ big three-game series against the Mets in New York this week, the Mets broadcaster and living legend said he didn’t want to call games against the Phils anymore because their fundamentals were so bad, saying “I hate doing Philly games.”

During the first two months of the season, no one would have said a word after comments like that, but as and Friend of the Hittin’ Season podcast Mike Petriello wrote earlier this week, the Phils defense has done a 180 since Rob Thomson took over.

It was predictably poor in April, and downright abysmal in May, in part because Bryce Harper’s elbow injury limited him to DH, forcing Schwarber and Castellanos to play the field every day, and in part because Alec Bohm looked like he wouldn’t last the season at third base. The minus-20 OAA they piled up was the third-worst month for any team going back to 2016, and it sure looked the part.

Then they dismissed Joe Girardi in the first days of June, and the team started to win, and the defense ... got better. After being worst-in-baseball in May, it was 18th in June, and tied for 7th in July. It wasn’t just better; it was good, despite losing Jean Segura, the Phillies’ best defensive infielder, after he broke a finger trying to bunt on May 31. Most surprisingly, it wasn’t new players, for the most part. It was the same group.

In last night’s heart-stopping 2-1, 10-inning win over the Mets, the Phils’ ever-growing penchant for sound, fundamental baseball was on full display. They made sparkling defensive plays, ran the bases aggressively, and received phenomenal pitching from Ranger Suarez and three of their best relievers, Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson.

Four plays in particular stood out.

Alec Bohm’s incredible bare-handed play with one out in the 6th.

Suarez’s two outstanding snags as he makes a case for a Gold Glove this off-season.

And, of course, the play of the game and maybe the year so far, Matt Vierling throwing out Starling Marte at home in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extra innings.

It’s clear confidence goes a long way to playing better defense, but infield coach Bobby Dickerson deserves a lot of credit for better defensive fundamentals, Bohm’s turnaround especially. But Dave Dombrowski’s moves at the trade deadline have helped, too. Removing Didi Gregorius and Odubel Herrera from the everyday lineup and replacing them with Bryson Stott, Jean Segura and Brandon Marsh up the middle was important in terms of run prevention and, last night, they benefitted from Vierling manning left field and not Kyle Schwarber (although we all want Schwarber back ASAP).

The Phils entered the season as a slug-first, defense-last team, and they played down to everyone’s low expectations during April and May. Honestly, Hernandez is correct, it was hard to watch the Phils sometimes, but the turnaround since has been remarkable, specifically at third, where Bohm’s confidence is manifesting itself both at the plate and in the field.

Contrast the Phils’ crisp brand of baseball to whatever it was the Mets were doing last night, with multiple defensive misplays and base running mistakes throughout. Eduardo Escobar fumbled a couple ground balls in the second inning that almost cost the Mets a run.

There was also this gaffe...

... and in a sharp contrast to Vierling’s play to end the 9th, Marte and Mets catcher Thomas Nido couldn’t replicate their feat in the top of the 10th, leading to the go-ahead run.

The throw was online, but Nido simply missed it, a mistake in fundamentals that ultimately cost New York a victory over a hard-charging divisional rival.

Last night, it was the Phillies who made the types of plays that win playoff games and the Mets who displayed the lack of fundamentals that Keith Hernandez hates so much.

Maybe he should ask to get off all Mets games, too.