More Sports:

May 22, 2018

It’s pitching – and Gabe Kapler’s positivity – that are making the Phillies believers

Maikel Franco wasn’t used to this. The third baseman has been with the Phillies for five years and this is the earliest the team has ever played a meaningful game.

After 45 games in 2017, the Phillies’ season was done. They were 16-29, sitting in fourth place in the National League East, 11.5 games out of first. They didn’t win their 27th game in 2017 until July 2. By then, they were a woeful 27-53.

What a difference a year and Gabe Kapler make.

After Nick Pivetta kept a good offensive Atlanta Braves offense off the board over 7 innings, and Hector Neris received another dose of confidence in closing out the Phils’ 3-0 victory on Monday, the Phillies continue to find themselves one of the surprises in all of baseball—at 27-18, .half a game behind the East Division-leading Braves through Tuesday afternoon.

Franco says a lot of the credit belongs to Kapler.

“You have to understand, we win together and it’s a good thing,” Franco said. “We have to keep playing the way we are playing. [Kapler] has a lot to do with it. He has great communication with everybody, and he has brought together as a family.

“He’s a guy who lets us play with confidence. Right now, it’s been amazing, and I think what’s really good is everybody is doing something different. We enjoy it and we have to keep it going. We’re in good shape right now and we’re playing the game in the right way.”

On Sunday, Kapler tapped Nick Williams on the shoulder and told him to be ready. Williams delivered with a pinch-hit three-run homer in a 4-2 Phillies’ victory over the Mets. On Monday, Kapler tapped Aaron Altherr, who delivered with a two-run pinch-hit homer in the seventh to propel the Phils over Atlanta.

“There is a totally different attitude here,” Altherr said. “There is a lot more positive energy that’s flowing through this clubhouse, and obviously, that comes from winning. But a lot of that has to do with Gabe. He always comes to the ballpark with a positive attitude, and that started in spring training.

“He’s always smiling, running around, filled with a whole bunch of energy. That rubs off on the players and that creates that vibe that we can win. It feels great. We have a really good team, and a really good thing going here. Pitching has been outstanding every single game so far. The defense has been unbelievable, and we’ve been getting a lot of timely hits.

“Hopefully, we can keep this going.”

In May, Phillies’ starting pitching has posted a 2.13 ERA (23 ER over 97.1 IP), with 101 strikeouts and a .210 opposing batting average in 17 games in May, where the Phils are 11-6. Phils’ starters have allowed one run or less in 12 of those 17 games and five hits or fewer in 15.

The shutout on Monday was the Phils fifth this season—something the starting rotation did not do until Sept. 14 in 2017.

Follow Joe on Twitter: @JSantoliquito

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports