Analysis

Suddenly, the Phillies are fun to watch again

What a weekend it was for the Phillies, who capped off a three-game sweep of the Cubs with an 11-5 lopsided victory in the “friendly” confines of Wrigley Field. The series provided some of the most entertaining baseball the city of Philadelphia has had the pleasure of watching since 2011.

It had everything a baseball fan could ever want—a dramatic comeback victory, an offensive explosion, and a masterful no-hit performance from a guy who could very well have pitched his final game for the only team and city he’s ever known during his 10-year Major League career.

It all began during the top of the ninth inning Friday afternoon, when Cody Asche smashed a game-tying ground-rule double into the ivy in center field to tie the score at three. After a scoreless frame by Ken Giles, Jeff Francoeur, yet again, played the role of hero by delivering a two-run blast to left field to give the Phillies a 5-3 lead. Jonathan Papelbon recorded his 17th save in as many opportunities, and the Phillies won the game in exciting come-from-behind fashion.

Then there was Saturday afternoon’s game with Cole Hamels on the mound seeking redemption.

After struggling in his previous two starts—14 runs in 6 1/3 innings—and trade rumors swirling around him, the left-hander took the mound to prove that he is one of the game’s top pitches. It was evident early on that Hamels had his “good stuff.” His fastball, which had averaged out at 92.3 according to FanGraphs, was consistently hitting 95-96, according to Wrigley’s radar gun. The increase in his fastball velocity made his already effective change up even more so, and the pinpoint location of his curveball had hitters off balance, which helped him earn 13 strikeouts.

With a number of intrigued scouts and 41,683 obstreperous fans in attendance, Hamels watched as the Cubs’ young phenom Kris Bryant put a jolt into a 3-2 hanging curveball—one of the few mistakes by Hamels—that looked destined to fly over the ivy-covered wall in center field.

The wind was blowing in, as Hamels mentioned in his post-game interview, and it almost cost the left-hander his no-hitter as Odubel Herrera overran the ball, but was able to recover and make a circus catch on what should’ve been a routine play. When the dust settled, Hamels had secured his first career no-hitter—the first no-hitter against the Cubs since Sandy Koufax no-hit them in 1965—and silenced the doubters. It was the perfect ending to a  orchestrated by a player that Jimmy Rollins dubbed “Hollywood” early in his career.

Still riding the high from Hamels’ historic game, the Phillies’ bats took center stage yesterday afternoon, scoring 11 runs on 17 hits. Every player in the starting lineup recorded a hit—-even Aaron Nola, who notched the second of his career and his first career RBI.

Maikel Franco, who had hit the ball well during the series, blasted his first home run in over a month, and Ryan Howard hit his 17th home run of the season—his third since the All-Star Break— passing Dick Allen for sole possession of 90th on MLB’s all-time home run list.

In only his second Major League start, Nola continued to show why he was the organization’s top pitching prospect. He provided a solid follow-up to Hamels’ no-hit masterpiece, pitching 7 2/3 innings en route to his first career win. The 22-year-old pounded the strike zone and pitched to contact, taking advantage of the Cubs’ aggressive young hitters. It was a great way to end a entertaining weekend of Phillies baseball. How many times have the words “entertaining” and “Phillies” been used in the same sentence this season? Not many, which is what made this weekend all the more special.

The Phillies have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star Break. They are 8-1, and have been clicking on all cylinders. Their offense ranks third in the NL in runs (48), third in batting average (.282), and fist in extra-base hits (35). Their pitching staff ranks fifth in the NL with a 2.82 ERA, and is tied for the most wins with eight.

They are playing great, energetic baseball right now. The infusion of young players, and contributions from old, familiar faces have been refreshing, and it’s given fans a reason to tune in.

Nothing has changed, however. The team still holds the worst record in baseball at 37-63, and aren’t going to come close to competing for a playoff spot. There won’t be any October baseball, or a late-season Wild Card/divisional dog fight to scoreboard watch for.

This team is still, by the numbers, bad. But there have been exciting, memorable moments since the break. This weekend, particularly Hamels’ no-hitter, was one of the highlights. The team with the worst record in baseball entered the historic confines of Wrigley Field, confident and unintimidated, and swept out an exciting, up-and-coming Cubs team that is fighting for a playoff spot. The series served as a message to all of baseball stating: “Hey, don’t sleep on the fightin’ Phills!”

The team may have lost 67 percent of its television audience since 2011, but the 2015 club has given fans an entertaining product on the field recently, and boy is it fun to watch.

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