(Homer) Hats Amore! – Thoughts after Phillies 12, Brewers 0

Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

No one saw that coming.

Even the most optimistic of Phillies fans had to think that if they were going to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, especially Cy Young contender Brandon Woodruff, that it was going to take some guile, some small ball, some good fortune, and a great game pitched by Zack Wheeler with a sprinkling of anxiety and tight rope walking from a bullpen that had just thrown 10 innings the day before.

Ask those same optimistic few before the game for a final score prediction and they likely would have given you something like 3-2, or 2-1, or even 1-0.

Well, the strong outing from Wheeler was right. As was the shutout, for those who went with the ultimate pitcher’s duel.

What was unexpected was six home runs, including the first grand slam in the 10-year career of Jean Segura, and an absolute offensive explosion of 16 hits en route to a 12-0 victory that allowed the Phillies to improve to 71-66 and pick up a half-game in the NL East Division race on the idle Atlanta Braves (now just 1.5 games out) and a half-game in the wild card race on the idle San Diego Padres (now just 2 games out).

They Came to Play

It was a complete win for the Phillies. Maybe their most complete of the season. Hell, they hadn’t shut out an opponent and scored at least 12 runs since 2006, so an argument can be made that its completeness goes beyond this season, too.

But the impressive thing was the Phillies came off a subpar series in Miami, took on a very good Milwaukee team and their best pitcher, and punched them in the mouth.

If the Phillies are to win the NL East, it’s very likely that Milwaukee would be their first round playoff opponent. The Brewers have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Their team ERA is third-best in the sport. And for one day, the Phillies pummeled them, improving to 5-0 against Milwaukee this season, having swept them in their only other series, a four-gamer in Philadelphia back in May.

The Phillies could have limped into this series after the way things went against the Marlins, as they barely survived on Sunday to prevent being swept by their South Florida nemesis.

The bats could have remained cold. Pitching could have failed them. Defense could have been a culprit again and cost them.

Instead, the Phillies came out of the gates swinging and never allowed even one counterpunch from the Brew Crew.

Bryce Leads the Way

At the conclusion of the Marlins series, Bryce Harper said that not only does the team need to be better, but he personally needs to be better. That he didn’t have a good enough series, and that needed to change.

This came following a game when he hit a home run to give the Phillies an early lead that would also prove to be the margin of victory in the game.

In his first at bat against Woodruff, Harper was as good as he could get:

Segura had a hustle play just before Harper’s bomb to beat out a single on a chopper to second base, so instead of Harper hitting another solo shot, this one was of the two-run variety, and gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead before Wheeler even had to throw a pitch.

It was Harper’s team-leading 28th homer of the season. He continues to make a late push for NL MVP. He is the only player in the National League with a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400 and a slugging percentage over .500. His slash line for the season right now is something Philadelphia fans aren’t used to: .301/.411/.589/1.001.

The only Phillies in my 47 years on this planet who have put up those types of numbers were Mike Schmidt in the strike-shortened 1981 season (.316/.435/.644/1.080) and Ryan Howard in his legendary 2006 season when he hit 58 home runs (.313/.425/.659/1.084).

And you know what those guys did in those seasons? They won the MVP award.

Giving Wheeler that 2-0 lead allowed him to start the game confidently, and not like a pitcher who needed to be perfect because his team wasn’t hitting for him.

Wheeler Dealing

Wheeler, who has had his share of struggles in his last several starts, instead looked like the guy who was leading the Cy Young race a month ago.

Pitching with the lead his entire six innings, Wheeler allowed just five hits and struck out nine batters while throwing 99 pitches:

It was the type of game we got used to seeing from the Phillies’ top pitcher this season and was definitely his best start since his two-hit, complete game shutout of the Mets back on Roy Halladay jersey retirement Day in early August.

Wheeler left after six innings with the game still in reach for Milwaukee as the Phillies only led 4-0 at that point, but one of the thing that had been an issue for Wheeler in his last few starts was allowing runs late in games. Joe Girardi decided it was important to manage Wheeler’s innings to get him through the season and potentially into the playoffs feeling “as fresh as possible this time of year.”

It was also an effort to not let him start losing either velocity or location – or both – late in a game when the team needs to lock down a victory.

Instead, Girardi turned the ball over to Hector Neris for a stellar seventh inning from the former Phillies closer, and then the Phils blew up the Brewers in the eighth inning.

Yes, it was Neris’ 500th career strikeout. He is in second place all-time among Phillies relievers behind only Ron Reed (519).

The Other Longballers

Freddy Galvis is starting to get his home run swing back. He hit a homer for the second-straight game and his third in four games and has been a boost to the lineup for the Phillies.

After start 2-for-18 (.111) in his first six games back with the Phillies, Galvis has gone 7-for-21 (.333) in his last six games, which included all those home runs as well.

Brad Miller, who recently lamented his own approach at the plate, hit not one, but two homers Monday:

I couldn’t find video of the second homer. It came off backup catcher Luke Maile who was throwing a 59MPH curve and a 71MPH fastball.

Either Twitter didn’t want to embarrass him, or they were tired of posting home run videos in this blow out.

So, this is the closest you can get:

It was Miller’s third multi-homer game this season. He now has 17 home runs, the second-most of his career, but he is on the best HR/PA appearance pace as a pro in a season he had more than 200 plate appearances. Miller is hitting a home run on average every 18 plate appearances.

In addition, since insisting he needed to be better following an 0-for-5 effort against Arizona on Aug. 26 that included him striking out with the tying run on base to end the game and saw his batting average plummet to a season-low .213, Miller has been uber-productive.

Miller has gone 10-25 with five walks, a triple, five homers, and eight RBI in his last 10 games (.400/.500/1.080/1.580).

Andrew McCutchen went deep again, hitting hi third homer in the last six games after going 13 straight without one:

It was Uncle Larry’s 24th of the season, which ranks him third on the team. His 70 RBI now rank him second.

And then there was Segura, who clubbed the first grand slam of his career:

Segura played in 1,208 games and had 5,126 plate appearances, 88 of which had come with the bases loaded, before finally hitting his first grand slam.

Segura finished with three hits and has raised his batting average back to .295 after it slid all the way down to .283.

In his last 11 games, Segura is slashing .348/.412/.977.

What’s next

The Phillies and Brewers go at it again Tuesday night at 7:40 with Aaron Nola on the hill against Eric Lauer. The Phillies will look to keep pace with the teams they are chasing. The Braves host the sad sack Washington Nationals while the Padres host the Los Angeles Angels.

The Cincinnati Reds, who lost to the Chicago Cubs Monday, are back at Wrigley Field.

As for the teams chasing the Phillies, the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, both losers Monday, are in action with the Mets starting a series in Miami with the Marlins and the Cardinals hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers again.

So, should you finally get emotionally invested in the Phillies? If you haven’t listened to me for the past two months, listen now. The answer is yes.