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April 30, 2016

High-energy Phillies having fun during surprising hot start

During his career, Ryan Howard has seen opposite ends of the spectrum, both individually and from a team standpoint. So it means something more coming from him that after hitting a blast, The Big Piece admitted he’s currently having one.

“There’s a different energy, and all that began in spring training,” Howard said after the Phillies’ 4-3 win over the Cleveland Indians in 11 innings on Friday night. “The way that everything has been going, it’s just kind of carrying over."

Ryan Howard, April 29th, 2016 from Rich Hofmann on Vimeo.

It’s a busy time in Philadelphia sports, from the Eagles betting the farm on a little-known quarterback, to upheaval in the Sixers front office, to the Flyers’ recent playoff run. Under the radar, the Phillies, a team that had no illusions of contending heading into the season, are a pleasant surprise at 13-10.

The Phils have been fun to watch in the early going. Pete Mackanin, the architect of the team’s fast start, said that the low preseason expectations might have helped his players.

“I think it possibly helped the guys relax,” Mackanin said. “I try to keep them relaxed and make sure they don’t get the feeling that we’re not supposed to win.”

They’re not supposed to win, not with this offense. Like most of the regulars besides Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, Howard is struggling with a slash line of .214/.278/.443. The team is scoring the fewest runs per game in Major League Baseball, even behind the 5-18 Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies can pitch, though, as evidenced by their 18 strikeouts on Friday. Early in the season, both the starters and bullpen have kept the team in games at times. Everyone else has managed enough timely hits to push the Phils to three games above .500 for the first time since September 21st, 2012. Winning truly cures all.

“I’m having a blast,” Howard said despite the poor individual numbers. “The team itself is just having a good time and playing.”

On this night, the bullpen and offense helped bail starter Adam Morgan out after a rough fifth inning. And even to the roster’s newest addition, the Phillies’ clubhouse chemistry is apparent.

“Right now this team is doing good, the energy is high, and everybody is picking each other up,” Morgan said after his first start with the big league club.

“It’s awesome,” he added. “The energy is high. Everybody is playing with enthusiasm and we’re coming to the field to work every day.”

The baseball season is long and unforgiving. There could be a time soon when the lineup stays cold and pitching staff starts to miss far fewer bats, when this 13-10 start will seem like ancient history. Conversely, what happens if the Phillies stay in contention, the lineup makes some improvements, and someone like Nick Williams provides the team with any production from a corner outfield spot?

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Right now, the Phillies are a competitive team, even if it’s not always apparent why that is. For now, that should be enough.

“It’s fun and everybody enjoys winning,” Mackanin said. “You’re developing, going through a rebuilding process, and part of development is knowing how to win and enjoying winning.”

“Our guys now are pretty used to winning and it’s a great feeling,” he added.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann