WASHINGTON – Kyle Gibson hasn’t been present for all the latest maddening teases provided by the Philadelphia Phillies over the past five years, a period marked by flashy acquisitions, administrative turmoil and a magnetic force that seems to pull star-studded squads back to 0.500 each fall. .
However, the right-handed veteran is entering his second pursuit of the club following his July 2021 takeover, and he has seen enough to diagnose what he believes has afflicted them – and portends better days ahead.
And after a disastrous start that saw several stars fall, head coach Joe Girardi fired and the club lose 12-and-a-half games behind the New York Mets in a bumpy National League East, Gibson isn’t too proud to do a little math. .
Or a lot of math.
“What would send us to the hump?” Gibson reflected before the club swept a double head from the staggering Washington Nationals. “In my time here, I don’t think we won the games that we should have won, against teams that we should have won. I think if we can take care of these games, we’re fine.
“We don’t play the Dodgers anymore. We don’t play the Brewers anymore. We have a pair against the Giants and we’re going to break up with the Padres after this trip. We’re almost done with the Mets. And we have all of our games against the Nationals and most of our games against the Marlins, and the three Central (NL) teams that are fighting at the bottom.
“We weathered and weathered the storm of the schedule that we will have. And now I think we’re heating up at the right time and it’s up to us to play and win the games we’re meant to win.”
The storm has almost certainly passed. Despite spending $179 million to lure hitters Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber to Philadelphia — and shelling out $742 million for five players since the $330 million pact to lure Bryce Harper to Philadelphia in 2019 — these Phillies have failed. . They lost eight of their first 12 games before a 3-10 streak cost Girardi his job as Castellanos (0.210 average over the last three weeks of May) and Schwarber (0.184-48 games) started shaky.
Girardi’s dismissal, both inside and out, felt like a long exhalation. And since then, the Phillies have taken off.
They staged an eight-game winning streak immediately after bench coach Rob Thomson was promoted and are 13-2 overall since he was named interim coach. From 22-29 under Girardi, they are now 35-31 overall.
There’s so much chicken and egg with this Phillies team that attributing this hot flash to the new person in the manager’s chair — particularly in light of Schwarber and Castellanos, to name two, showing better vital signs — would be oversimplified.
“You just need a different voice to connect with the individuals at the club,” club president Dave Dombrowski told USA TODAY Sports about Thomson, who spent a decade on the Yankees coaching staff, including a stint as head coach of Girardi’s bench before assuming the same position. role under Girardi with the Phillies in 2020. “There could be any number of reasons behind it, but you just need a different voice.
“We played freely. We always fought a lot and we were a club that came back in the last two years. The only thing we didn’t do was win those games. And we’ve been winning these games lately.”
And while baseball isn’t as simple as a coach change from the NBA or the NFL, where folks can more stealthily to a new leader, Thomson has reaped the benefits of veterans finding their level and younger players gaining comfort and confidence. .
children at play
Approaching four and a half years with the Phillies, Harper more than lived up to the standards of his 13-year, $330 million contract. His 15 homers, 0.326/0.391/0.622 slash line and 86 extra-base hits since the last half of the season have the reigning MVP twice primed for a repeat.
However, Harper has always realized that he needs help.
As a Washington National, he’s lobbied for the services of catcher JT Realmuto — which the Phillies would acquire in 2019. He rolls in Schwarber and Castellanos to flesh out the lineup.
And like a baseball rat who studies the deepest corners of every organization, he’s excited to see the organic, internal development in Philadelphia.
“It’s no secret that we haven’t crafted well in the last 10 years or so,” says Harper. “Everybody knows that; we talk about it. It’s causing the guys we have to come and change the narrative a little bit.
“Having that influx of good young people who can really help their squad – that’s where teams succeed – to rely on their minor leagues to develop, to help the big leagues. This is huge for us.”
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Turns out he’s pretty tight with the new help.
The Phillies used the 14th overall pick in 2019 on shortstop Bryson Stott, who has known Harper since Stott was a T-ball player and Harper played with Stott’s older brothers in Las Vegas. Harper’s sister Brittany cheered for a team coached by Stott’s mother at El Dorado High School.
Now, Stott stays with Harper and his family at spring training in Clearwater, Florida, and a bit of a prankster claims he’s “not even close” that Harper’s son Krew considers him his favorite uncle. (Bryan Harper, royal uncle, would disagree.)
Stott and Bryce Harper struggle to break up their friendship at the clubhouse, where Stott, who made his major league debut on April 7, assimilates like any rookie. Dombrowski says that since Stott was drafted before taking office, he had no idea of the Harper-Stott connection when he visited its affiliate Class AA Reading (Pennsylvania) in 2021 and heard praise about Stott’s aptitude for baseball and his penchant for baseball. ask advanced questions from the technical team.
Now, he’s more of a player who, for whatever reason, thrived under the Thomson regime.
Injuries to Didi Gregorius (knee) and Jean Segura (broken finger) opened up game time for Stott, who started the season by cutting 0.143/0.195/0.169 in 127 board games at the time of Girardi’s sending off. He posted a 0.244 average with an OPS of 0.872 in his first 45 plate appearances since Girardi’s firing, including a three-run homer that followed Harper’s grand slam to beat the Angels in Thomson’s third game.
Gregorius is back, Johan Camargo is on his way, and Segura will eventually return, though maybe not until September. For now, it’s Stott’s runway, and he believes it’s an environment in which he can thrive.
“He never wants anything to surprise him,” says Stott of Thomson. “If you’re not playing, he’ll come after the game and let you know you’re off the next day and when you’re going to play again. Just so you’re never at home wondering if you’re going to play or not.
“His philosophy is that if you know what you’re doing, it’s much easier to prepare. He’s been unbelievable and it’s been great playing for him.”
At their healthiest, the Phillies can boast an MVP, All-Star or Rookie of the Year in seven of nine daily positions, with first baseman Rhys Hoskins the chance to join them after hitting 13 home runs with an OPS of 0.807 to start the year. . However, it’s Stott, midfielder Matt Vierling and former No. 1 overall pick Mickey Moniak – who bounced between Phillies outfield and Class AAA – who offer the promise of youth in the game of an increasingly young man. young.
In Friday’s 8-7 10-inning win to cap a double header sweep, it was the best of both worlds: Harper, demoted to DH service because of a torn elbow ligament, came off the bench to rip one game drawn, two-run double. And Vierling hit two homers, including a ninth inning shot.
“The best clubs I’ve been with throughout my career have a combination of good veteran players and young players. What we lacked here over the years was having good, younger players,” says Dombrowski. “We’re getting to the point where some of them are coming and playing for us. But it’s not easy to get over that hump.
“One thing Rob Thomson does is he’s patient in talking to them about it.”
Still, the task ahead is daunting. The Phillies trail the Mets by eight games and the Braves by 2½. Even the expanded playoff format is a dice game, with five viable candidates vying for the three wild card slots this summer.
It would help if the best were still ahead of their veterans, and that might be the case.
No one loves the Dads ‘n Grads season more than Schwarber, whose 18 home runs are tied for the NL lead. He hit seven on June 60, a year after hitting 16, including nine in six games, to re-establish his free agent pedigree.
Schwarber is hitting 0.300 (18 to 60) in June after hitting 0.185 through May.
“When he’s in prison,” says Thomson, “it’s very special.”
Schwarber waves to Castellanos, two lockers below him, as the next one goes down, and he started a five-game set in Washington with four hits in his first seven hits. The team has scored six or more runs in 11 of its last 17 games.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for,” says Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler, “arriving.”
Now, to support you.
The unbalanced schedule did the Phillies few favors, feeding them a steady Mets diet as the club got off to a hot start even without star player Jacob deGrom. Philly needs a similar stretch to hit.
And after three months of volatile performance and five years of disappointment that led from Gabe Kapler to Girardi to Thomson, the Phillies once again have a chance to end a decade-long playoff drought.
“I believe we are a team that can go 33-17 like the Mets did in their first 50 games? Yes, I think we are,” insists Gibson. “I think that’s how we’re going to go back and finish a playoff team — playing consistently.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Philadelphia Phillies rally after poor start to 2022 MLB season