All That and a Bag of Chips: Thoughts on Phillies 4, Diamondbacks 0

PHOTO CREDIT: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

To a man, they keep calling it “a vibe.” And for lack of a better description, that’s what it is. Not just in the clubhouse, where it’s definitely being felt, but throughout Citizens Bank Park these days.

That’s because mediocre teams don’t tend to win nine games in a row. Mediocre teams don’t win nine games to start a month. Mediocre teams don’t have a manager that wins the first eight games of his tenure. Although, one could argue, that only mediocre teams would have to fire their initial manager in-season to wake them up enough to go on such winning streaks, but why bring any rational thought into this era of good feeling for the Phillies?

Well, the vibe kept pulsating Saturday, and it did so in a quick and efficient manner, too.

Zack Wheeler pitched six shutout innings, the Phillies got another home run from Bryson Stott, Andrew Bellatti filled in for the back end of the bullpen to get the biggest out of the game, and the bounces continued to go the Phillies’ way as they defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-0, in a game that took less than three hours — a rarity for Phillies games this season. It also took place in front of another 30,000 plus fans, who all of the sudden are also feeling the Phillies “vibe.”

It’s been a heck of a 10 days for this team. The Phillies have gone from eight games under .500, 12 1/2 games back in the N.L. East and seven games back in the wild card race to a team that is now a game over .500 (30-29) and has shaved 4 1/2 games off both the Mets’ lead in the division. They’re also within striking distance of the Giants.

So in celebration of the nine straight wins, which hasn’t been accomplished since the 2011 Phillies, they of a franchise record 102 wins, who won nine straight from July 29-Aug. 6, here are nine thoughts about the Phillies blanking the D-backs on Saturday.

Love Potion No. 9

Whatever the ingredients are that go into pitching performances like Zack Wheeler’s, should be bottled into some kind of potion or elixir and given to every Phillies pitcher from here to eternity.

Consider the week the guy had.

After a strong performance last Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels, Wheeler went on paternity leave. He and his wife Dominique gave birth to a baby girl (Bambi) very early Tuesday morning.

He didn’t get a chance to do his normal throwing routines during the week, but came back Saturday, one day later than he was originally scheduled to pitch, and yielded only two hits and walking none while striking out eight Diamondbacks.

He was lifted after six innings and 98 pitches, but Thomson said it was just precautionary considering he didn’t throw as much as normal during the week and that under normal circumstances, Wheeler would have gone back out for the seventh inning without question.

Wheeler has now thrown five consecutive quality starts for the Phillies and has seven in his last eight outings.

After a couple of rough starts early in the season, which were more like exhibition games for Wheeler since he was behind schedule coming into spring training, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball.

He has now lowered his ERA to 2.84 and his WHIP to 1.089, but more impressively, in his last eight starts he is 5-0 with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.

Wheeler is once again throwing like a potential CY Young candidate as the ace of the Phillies’ staff.

On Cloud Nine

Matt Vierling is so happy to be back in the big leagues, he’d do anything to help the team win – including playing a position he never played before… in his life.

True story.

Vierling had a whirlwind week of his own: catching an unexpected flight from Nebraska to Chicago and then renting a car and driving to Milwaukee in time to hit a pinch hit, game-winning home run off Milwaukee’s untouchable closer Josh Hader. He then came back to Philadelphia with the team and was told Friday he’d be playing second base on Saturday.

The Phillies wanted to give Didi Gregorius a day off, since he recently came back from a leg injury. But with infielder depth quite short as Jean Segura, Nick Maton and Johan Camargo are all on the injured list, finding someone to play in the middle infield is challenging.

So Vierling, who is an athlete that has played all three outfield positions as well as both corner infield positions, started taking groundballs there when he was in Lehigh Valley and also added some more reps in warmups in Milwaukee.

All in anticipation for this start.

Then, he saw a lot of action.

“It always finds you,” he said with a smile.

Vierling fielded six ground balls, including the game’s final out. He caught a pop up and was part of a force out at second base. He almost turned a double play, too, but was slightly distracted by a takeout slide, which he admitted he never experienced before, and his throw to first was late.

Still, he looked pretty natural out there and said he will do whatever it takes to help the team win.

Time for the Nine iron

Bryson Stott did it again – he launched a two-run homer to right field in the bottom of the second to put the Phillies up 3-0. It was his fourth homer in eight games.

It was another wall scraper, too, which got me wondering:

The Phillies will take them, though. They don’t have to be pretty – although Saturday’s dinger did have one of those majestic arcs:

Which reminds me… this is where today’s headline comes from. A great call by Tom McCarthy to say “open up another bag of chips.”

Don’t get the reference? Well, just before Stott’s homer, he and John Kruk were having a lot of fun at this guy’s expense for bringing a Costco-sized bag of Kettle cooked chips to the game Saturday afternoon:

NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!

There was a little bad news Saturday. Well, not bad news exactly, but concerning news that could turn into bad news.

Phillies closer Corey Knebel was warming up in the bottom of the eighth inning when word got back to Thomson that Knebel was feeling stiffness in his shoulder. Thomson said that he personally made the decision to immediately shut down Knebel for the day, and turned, instead, to Christopher Sanchez to close out the game, something he felt even more comfortable doing once the Phillies got the fourth run in the bottom of the eighth.

Knebel wasn’t available after the game, as he was getting treatment, but the team said they would re-evaluate him and update Sunday.

The bullpen is an area where the Phillies can’t afford to lose bodies, even if Knebel had been less than stellar of late (4.91 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP – 25 baserunners in the last 14.2 innings pitched – and yielding a .368 on base percentage and .824 OPS to opposing hitters).

If he has to miss time, the Phillies don’t have many options other than perhaps bringing Jose Alvarado back from the minors as they’re likely going to need Bailey Falter to start in the double header in Washington next week.

Nine Lives

One interesting name that Bob Wankel and I talked about on a recent episode of Crossed Up is reclamation project Mark Appel.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft by Houston Astros, Appel never found his footing in the minor leagues, even after being included as one of the five players in the 2015 trade with Houston that the Phillies got in return for Ken Giles. Finally frustrated with his lack of success and development as a starter, Appel retired from baseball following the 2017 season.

But he decided to give it a go again last year, and the Phillies still retained his rights. His 2021 didn’t turn out much better than any of his previous minor league seasons, but he was convinced to give it one more try this season in a completely new role – as a closer.

Now 30 years old, Appel may have finally found his calling. In 23 1/3 innings for Lehigh Valley, Appel has a 1.93 ERA and a 1.029 WHIP. They are easily the best numbers of his minor league career.

If the Phillies were to consider bringing him up, they would first have to select his contract and add it to the 40-man roster, but they could easily shift Jean Segura (finger fracture) to the 60-day DL to make room, at least temporarily, for Appel.

Dressed to the Nines

When someone says you are “dressed to the nines,” it means you are wearing the very best clothes and look sensational.

Andrew Bellatti made Thomson look good.

Aside from the Knebel situation in the bullpen, Seranthony Dominguez was also unavailable Saturday having pitched a lot in the previous two days.

So, after Jeryus Familia found himself in trouble (again) in the seventh inning, loading the bases with two outs, rather than leave him in to work out of the jam on his own, Thomson called on Bellatti, who was, in his mind, the guy to replace Dominguez to come into a game in a crucial spot and put out the fire.

Did he ever.

Bellatti got Diamondbacks star Ketel Marte to hit a lazy fly ball to centerfield by throwing him a steady diet of sliders.

“It was a pretty intense situation, and I enjoyed it,” Bellatti said.

Thomson just called it the “next man up mentality.” And maybe it was, but to be honest, Bellatti has been a bit of an under-the-radar success for the Phillies so far this season out of the pen.

Although his walk rate is a little high (4.1 per 9 innings), Bellatti has an impressive strike out rate (12.2 per 9). On top of that, a 3.57 ERA and a 1.245 are pretty solid numbers for a middle relief guy. He throws hard and his slider plays at this level.

Quietly, he’s become a pretty entrenched member of this bullpen and is being relied on more and more in bigger spots.

 

Magic Hat No. 9

When things are going well for a team, you don’t question it. You just accept the bounces are going your way. Pull a rabbit out of the hat and hit a grad slam in one inning to tie the game and then after falling behind again get a walk off homer to win the game? Don’t question it. Pull out the magic hat again to hit not one but two home runs against Josh Hader in Milwaukee and earn another win? Just whistle past that graveyard.

Frankly, when that magic hat begs to be used, just use it – and never fear the outcomes.

Early in the game Saturday, an opposite field ground ball by Odubel Herrera took a weird change-of-direction hop on Arizona third baseman Josh Rojas. An error was charged on the play, although Herrera likely deserved a single. Regardless, this was a runner on base that eventually scored on Stott’s homer.

Even more fortunate was this double by Nick Castellanos that scored Bryce Harper from first base:

Castellanos didn’t even want to swing at that pitch, and he hits a double. Harper completely ran through a Dusty Wathan stop sign at third base (there were no outs at the time), and his brazen baserunning resulted in another run.

It is kind of magical how all these things just seem to work out in your favor when you are winning with consistency, isn’t it?

Ode to Joy (Beethoven’s Ninth symphony)

It’s almost like this ceremonial music needs to play every time we talk about Thomson as the Phillies’ new manager:

Thomson starting 8-0 has tied a franchise record for best start to a managerial career, tying Pat Moran, who won his first eight games as skipper of the Phillies in 1915. Yep, 107 years ago.

In fact, Thomson is only the third manager since 1900 to win his first eight games, joining Moran and Joe M. Morgan, who holds the record for best start to a managerial career when he won his first 12 games as the manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1988. That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

Karn Evil 9

What the hell is this reference?

Let me turn it over to the great Emerson, Lake, and Palmer:

“Come and see the show… it’s a dynamo.”

This is the Phillies right now. Their all-time record for consecutive wins is 13 – something they accomplished in 1895, 1977 and 1991. They’re just four away from getting there. and if you think they’re satisfied with just getting over .500 now for the first time since they were 3-2, you’d be wrong.

“We got to .500,” Thomson said. “Now we shoot for five over. Once we get there shoot for 10 over.”

Yep, the “vibe” is real.

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