Rob Thomson finally gave the people what they wanted, and his team finally won.

See? How hard was that?

The Phillies’ longest losing streak in almost four years finally ended Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, and all it took was a simple lineup change that plenty of (rightfully) impatient fans had been begging for.

After four games of disappointing results with Kyle Schwarber hitting leadoff, Thomson finally caved and dropped his left fielder down the lineup to the fifth spot. The move paid immediate dividends with Schwarber delivering two hits, three runs batted in, and his eighth home run of the season.

Notably, after seven solo shots, it was his first home run with a runner on base.

I think sometimes we give too much attention to the batting order. When a lineup has five or six hitters clicking all at once, its construction typically isn’t as important. Runs will find a way. But when things aren’t firing on all cylinders, and it’s safe to say they haven’t been for this Phillies team, the need to optimize the functioning parts becomes more important.

Consider this: The Phillies entered Sunday ranked 19th in average with runners in scoring position, hitting just .249. Worse yet, they came in with a .342 slugging percentage w/ RISP, worst in the National League.

It’s not just that the hits have come far too infrequently, hits that do major damage have been almost completely absent. Schwarber’s two-run blast was just the Phillies’ fifth homer this season with at least one runner in scoring position. You may not be surprised to learn that they came in ranked dead-last in that category.

All of this is to say that unless (or until) this lineup turns into the relentless grind for opposing pitchers that many thought it would be, the Phillies need to maximize this current lesser-performing iteration.

Moving Schwarber down to fifth in the order where he has a chance to maximize the impact of his power stroke seems like a good start.

Problem solved?

Maybe not. But for one game, the Phillies lineup looked longer, deeper, and more potent. It’s a start.

More Splitters

Before his start against Boston, Taijuan Walker’s previous two outings had been downright concerning. He lasted a combined 7 1/3 innings while allowing a total of 13 hits, 13 earned runs, and five walks.

That’s why it was so encouraging that he delivered his best start of the season on Sunday. He also did it against a red-hot Red Sox lineup that had produced 7.38 runs per game over its previous eight contests.

Beyond his six innings of one-run ball, he allowed just three hits and didn’t walk a batter for the first time this season. He had issued at least a pair of walks in each of his first seven starts on his way to posting a career worst 5.3 walks per nine innings.

Perhaps aiding Walker’s bounce back was his season high splitter usage.

According to MLB Statcast, 46 of his 85 pitches (54 percent) to Boston hitters were splitters. For context, take a look at how often he went to the splitter in three previous outings:

  • Dodgers: 30 of 82 (37 percent)
  • Mariners: 14 of 68 (21 percent)
  • White Sox: 22 of 95 (23 percent)

That’s a pretty big bump, and with the way he was throwing it Sunday, the plan was bound to work.

It Starts at the Top

When the Phillies signed Trea Turner this past winter the assumption was they had finally solved their long-running leadoff deficiency.

That has yet to be the case.

Entering Sunday, Phillies leadoff hitters were producing a .582 OPS. That’s the second worst in all of baseball. Their .259 on-base percentage from the top of the order is the worst in the National League.

Of course, that number is significantly harmed by Schwarber’s recent run of failing to reach base in 19 plate appearances out of the top spot.

Bryson Stott, who hit leadoff for the 20th time this season on Sunday, figures to get more run there moving forward. After going 1-for-4 Sunday, he’s now hitting .261 in 92 at-bats with a .299 OBP out of the leadoff spot this season.

Jinx for J.T.

The Phillies baseball communications team does a great job, but I put the blame for J.T. Realmuto’s failed stolen base attempt in the second inning squarely on them.

From the pregame notes:

“Dating back to July 20, 2021, Realmuto is 34-for-36 in stolen base attempts and his 94.4% success rate is tops among all MLB players in that span (min. 30 SB attempts).”


Reinforcements Coming?

The persisting question marks about the Phillies starting rotation have reached the point where it’s probably time to start talking about Nick Nelson.

Nelson, who worked out of the bullpen last season, needed just 59 pitches in his latest outing with Reading to complete five innings of one-run baseball. He struck out five and walked none. Nelson has now allowed just two earned runs over 13 innings of work while tallying 12 strikeouts without a walk.

Meanwhile, Ranger Suarez made a final rehab start with Lehigh Valley, also cruising through five innings of efficient work. All indications are that he will start a game for the Phillies in Colorado next weekend.

In essence, Suarez replaces the spot vacated by Matt Strahm (more on him below), so what about that fifth spot moving forward?

I just don’t know how much longer the Phillies can go with Bailey Falter. I’m well aware they have scored a grand total of 14 runs in his seven starts this season, but he has done little to help their ugly 1-6 record in his outings. Beyond his 5.75 ERA, Falter is allowing opponents to hit .290 this season with a collective .789 OPS. That’s rough.

If the Phillies decide to make a swap, then Nelson stands in line to get a look.

A New Bullpen Weapon

It was a solid two scoreless innings for Strahm in his first appearance following a move from the starting rotation. Not only did he earn his first save with the Phillies, but he also gave a gassed bullpen a much needed break by taking down the final six outs.

Strahm, who has held opponents to a .184 batting average this season, figures to be a significant multi-use weapon for a Phillies bullpen that could use a boost right now.

Don’t Bank on It

A personal complaint that I gotta file here.

Please, for the love of God, can we stop referencing last year’s NL East standings on Memorial Day when trying to write off the Phillies’ lackluster start through 35 games?

Yes, I know, the 2022 Braves erased a 10.5 game deficit to the Mets and went on to win the division. And yes, I know, the standings in May don’t always reflect the standings in October. But come on.

Do we need to point out that it was the Braves who surged by the Mets with a 78-34 record over the final four-plus months to win the division? You know, the same team that has busted out of the gates with a 24-11 record this season.

I’m not here to tell you the Phillies can’t work themselves back into the division race against a team that has played .694 baseball over its last 147 regular season games. They very well may, but don’t confuse the precedent of an unlikely outcome last season with the likelihood of it happening again.

Falling behind the overwhelming division favorite by eight games is bad. Even in May! And it makes the Phillies’ path forward much more difficult.