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May 06, 2024

5 thoughts on the red hot Phillies after a four-game sweep of the Giants

The Phillies are rolling with the punches as they continue to boast the best record in all of baseball.

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Harper-Home-Run-Celebration-Phillies-Giants-MLB-5.6.24.jpg Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

The good times are rolling for Bryce Harper and the Phils.

The Phillies are the best team in the majors, and summer has come early in South Philly (don't let the chilly temperatures from this past weekend fool you).

With a convincing four-game sweep of the Giants, the Phillies are in firm control of the best record in baseball and hold a rare spring position atop the NL East. The pitching staff is elite. The batting order is doing it all. 

It's a long season but opportunities to savor an ascension can often be elusive in this city. So let's take a look at five things I couldn't help but notice at a very happy ballpark this weekend:

1. Breathing room

It's super early to be looking at the standings, but with the Phillies now three games clear of the rival Braves — who have won the division six times in a row and were picked to win it again basically unanimously — it's worth acknowledging. 

Via the Phillies: It's the first time the team has had this big of a division lead this early since May 31, 2019. On that day, Andrew McCutcheon led off and Nick Williams started in right field. The Phillies would eventually fall apart and finish in third. Five years later, this version is a lot more talented.

For a team that has had to dig out of an early hole in back-to-back seasons, the idea of celebrating a division title and having a little less drama is an appealing one, as is unseating Atlanta from the NL East pinnacle. This team offers as good of a chance at it since the last division winner in 2011.

2. In the clutch

The Phillies are among the best in baseball during clutch and meaningful at-bats. Against the Giants, they left some meat on the bone but still did enough to convincingly sweep the set. Their hitters had a remarkable 49 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the four-game set and drove runs in on 15 of them (a .306 average). That boosts their already enviable numbers.

They did it thrice in the series finale, with Whit Merrifield knocking in a run with an RBI single and Bryce Harper hitting his second three-run bomb of the season.

Nick Castellanos also started getting hot Monday, adding an RBI double to an earlier single.

Some numbers with runners in scoring position (as of Monday morning): 

Home runs142nd
Batting average.2905th

In contrast, the Phillies hit .259 last year with RISP, 13th in baseball and struck out the fifth most of any club.

3. Wheeler is still the ace

We mean no disrespect to the reigning NL pitcher of the month Ranger Suárez — who would win a Cy Young award running away if it was handed out after six starts – but Zack Wheeler is the ace of this team and he showed it in his latest start on Monday.

Wheeler looks exactly the same when he has runners on and when he doesn't — whether it's a clutch pitch with a man in scoring position or a sweeper thrown way off the plate on an 0-2 count. Perhaps that's what makes him Zack Wheeler.

Scattering four hits and a walk, the $40 million a year man relented only an unearned run (the Phillies' defense remains shaky at times) while striking out 11 (his 16th double-digit strikeout performance in Philly) and maneuvering the San Francisco lineup with gusto through seven frames. Another gem.

4. Roster shuffle

Two roster-related happenstances have made things complicated for Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who will have to start showing his creativity and strategy over the next few weeks.

First at shortstop — and the two-hole in the lineup. With Trea Turner expected to miss around six weeks as he rests and recovers from a hamstring injury, the Phillies are in need of a right-handed hitter who can hit for average in between leadoff man Kyle Schwarber and three-hole hitter Bryce Harper. So far the team has elected to bat J.T. Realmuto second and it's worked pretty well. On the days he's off, it could be Nick Castellanos or Edmundo Sosa. Alec Bohm appears to be set as the cleanup hitter. 

Sosa is expected to play most days at short, though the team did move Bryson Stott back to his old position Monday with Whit Merrifield manning second. 

Then the back of rotation: In his first two starts since his late debut, Taijuan Walker has pitched well enough to make his $72 million contract unignorable, so the front office relegated Spencer Turnbull and his 1.67 ERA over six starts to a long relief role. It could be temporary, but for now, the team is going to stick with Walker and Cris Sánchez to round out the five-man rotation. 

The fact that the Phillies have so many options in these two mini-crises that don't make you want to cringe is a good sign that their deliberate effort to enter 2024 with some depth is working. 

5. Easy road

The Phillies have not played a good baseball team since they dropped two of three to the Braves to start the regular season. Sporting the third easiest strength of schedule so far in 2024, Philly has rightly feasted on third- and forth-place teams so far this season, and they have the best record in baseball to show for it.

This will only continue later this week, with the Blue Jays (16-19) in town for a pair, before a road trip to Miami (10-26) and later Queens to face the Mets (16-14). The Nationals will complete a trio of matchups against teams in the NL East before the defending World Series champion Rangers come to town in mid-May. 

This is the time to grow that NL East lead. It won't be this easy in the summer.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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