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Fueled by postseason failures, the Phillies are riding high with the best record in baseball

 The Associated Press  |    May 24th, 2024 6:02am EDT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Phillies are winning games at such a torrid pace, you have to stretch to the halcyon days of when Grover was a hip name in America to find anything like what Philly’s favorite team ready has achieved this season.

Take ace lefty Ranger Suárez.

The 28-year-old Suárez is 9-0 with a 1.36 ERA, the third-lowest ERA by a Phillies pitcher in his first 10 starts of a season. Suárez trails only Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had a 1.24 ERA in first 10 starts of 1916 and a 1.31 ERA in his first 10 starts of 1915.

Or how about the entire team?

Riding a high with the best record in baseball, the Phillies are 29-6 over their last 35 games, which matches the best 35-game span in franchise history, last done in 1892.

Who can forget the 1892 presidential election, when Grover Cleveland beat Benjamin Harrison to become the only president elected for two nonconsecutive terms?

Grover may be out-of-style these days as a first name — with apologies to the furry blue monster, if the Phillies win it all, they’ll take a parade ride down Broad Street rather than Sesame Street — but the Phillies are still rocking winning streaks like they did more than 130 years ago.

The Phillies are 37-14 and lead the NL East by six games over the Atlanta Braves as they open a six-game trip Friday in Colorado.

They are winning at a clip that not even Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt or Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard could muster this early in a season. Their recent streaks are about as eye-popping as a Schwarbomb: Philadelphia is 17-3 in May, it opened with the best 50-game start in baseball since the 2001 Seattle Mariners and it has already swept seven series, the most recent being a three-gamer over the World Series champion Texas Rangers.

“This is best team I’ve ever been a part of,” right fielder and 12-year-veteran Nick Castellanos said.

The root of the early run just might be found in last season’s postseason failure. A year after a surprise run to the World Series in 2022 that saw them lose to the Houston Astros, the Phillies blew NL Championship Series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2023.

Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Castellanos went 5 for 53 (.094) with 11 walks, 22 strikeouts and two RBIs in Philadelphia’s four NLCS losses. Against six Arizona pitchers in Game 7, the four went 1 for 15 (.067) with five strikeouts and no RBIs.

“I had a real hard time enjoying any part of the offseason, even when I was on vacation, just because of how that bitter season ended,” Castellanos said.

The Phillies suffered the kind of franchise-crushing defeats that often lead to a roster overhaul. Maybe one of their free-swinging sluggers gets traded for an arm. Maybe they let a couple of free agents walk.

Instead, team president Dave Dombrowski essentially stood pat.

In sports parlance, the Phillies decided to run it back.

They re-signed homegrown right-hander Aaron Nola to a seven-year, $172 million contract. They signed manager Rob Thomson to an extension through 2025. They eliminated any possible distraction Zack Wheeler might have had in the final year of his deal by re-signing the righty on a three-year, $126 million contract.

“There’s kind of an edge to everybody,” Thomson said. “They want to finish it.”

Why bust up a good thing?

“The fact we were able to face adversity together (and) feel losses together, it just makes our bond as a group better,” Castellanos said. “That’s hats off to ownership and the front office for believing in pieces that were already here.”

The Phillies boasted a $243,476,617 payroll on opening day, a far cry from 2002 when The New York Times writer Murray Chass described the franchise as “a major-market team disguised as a small-market welfare recipient.”

Oh sure, Harper is on a tear again, with 12 homers. J.T. Realmuto has hit in a career-high 13 straight games. Third baseman Alec Bohm is second in the NL with 46 RBIs and tops in baseball with 20 doubles.

Yes, the Phillies can slug.

But it’s a throwback approach to the rotation that has it posited as the best in baseball.

Phillies starters have pitched at least seven innings in 18 starts this year, the most in baseball.

“They all, obviously, have plus, plus stuff,” Realmuto said. “But just the fact they all throw strikes with multiple pitches and can attack hitters different ways inside of the strike zone makes them really tough to game plan against and be successful off of. Just throwing different pitches in different counts and they’re all for strikes when they want them, that’s rare in this game and we have a lot of guys that can do it.”

So yeah, maybe the Phillies are keep it old-school, in comparisons to the best teams and players in franchise history, and with a way of thinking that has them tops in baseball.

They know, though, each time they look beyond another packed house and at the 1980 and 2008 World Series flags that fly at Citizens Bank Park, a record start means nothing without a championship finish.

“It’s cool, but, again, we all know what we want to accomplish,” reliever Matt Strahm said. “Other Phillies clubs have won World Series and that’s the most impressive thing. So that’s what we want to do.”


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The Associated Press