The Phillies continue to pounce on cellar dwellers and suffocate them early, leaving the weakest teams in the National League with little chance of coming back.
It bodes well with another 13 games in a row against sub-.500 clubs.
Just as they did Friday night and all week, the Phillies rode early offense to a relatively comfortable win. They scored three runs in the first inning on J.T. Realmuto's bases-clearing double and cruised from there in a 6-0 win, their sixth in a row.
The Phils have outscored their opponents 22-1 in the first three innings of those six games.
“You know, last year, that was our downfall, honestly,” pitcher Kyle Gibson said of the Phillies’ ability to beat teams buried in the standings.
“This year, our mindset coming in has been a little bit crisper and with a little bit more of an edge than we’ve had in the past. It’s easy to get lackadaisical or complacent when you’re playing these teams. Especially lately, we’ve done a great job of coming out against these teams and getting the lead early and really setting the tone to the game.
“I’ve been on those teams where you’re losing 100 games and any time you give up runs early, it feels like, ‘Here we go again.’ I would assume some of the teams we’ve played have had that feeling. That’s what you want as the team that’s playing for the playoffs. You want them getting in that mood and for them it’s going to be hard to come back. That’s been the biggest difference.”
Realmuto has been one of baseball's best sluggers for the last five weeks. He's driven in 26 runs in his last 27 games, fourth in the majors over that span behind only Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Judge and Pete Alonso.
Realmuto has an extra-base hit and/or an RBI in eight straight games and the opportunities should persist with Bryce Harper back hitting in front of him. Harper, in his second game since returning from a broken left thumb, singled in the first inning just as he did Friday. It loaded the bases for Realmuto. Harper was later intentionally walked twice.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve almost played down to our competition sometimes,” Realmuto said. “For me, that’s a big difference in our season. The teams we should handle, we’ve played well against all season.”
The Phillies have opened up a nice cushion in the wild-card race. They're in the second of three wild-card spots with a 2½-game lead over the Padres and a five-game lead on the Brewers.
There are a lot of really bad teams across baseball this season, and since being swept out of the All-Star break by the Cubs, the Phillies are 18-2 against clubs with losing records.
Since June 1, the Phillies have had five different winning streaks of at least five games. At 72-55, they are as far above .500 as they've been since the final day of the 2011 season, and it's been that long since they had this many hitters hot at the same time.
The Phillies are 23-9 in their last 32 games. Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm and Realmuto have each hit between .323 and .333 during that stretch. Bryson Stott has hit .295 with pop. Jean Segura hasn't been back for all of that time but he's hit .344 with a .427 on-base percentage in his last 19 games. And he's now the 8-hole hitter.
Remember when Kyle Schwarber was carrying the Phillies' offense from June 1 through mid-July? Schwarber has one home run over the last three weeks and the Phils have gone 14-7. They're facing inferior pitching and shoddy defenses but they're finding ways to score even when their home run hitters aren't going deep.
Gibson earned the win in his 25th start, improving to 9-5 with a 4.08 ERA. He struck out nine across seven scoreless innings in one of his best starts of the year.
The Phils look to sweep the seven-game season series against the Pirates Sunday afternoon behind Noah Syndergaard, whose four starts as a Phillie have all resulted in wins.
"September 1 might be a little early to start thinking about it, but when you're sitting in a playoff spot, it's easier to think about," Gibson said. "You try to fight those thoughts until you can clinch and until you can get to that moment, but absolutely, it's something you think about."
Thirty-five games to go.