The Phillies have been a lot more fun to watch in the final weeks of the season and players such as Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola are only part of the reason.
In the simplest terms, the Phillies have been more fun to watch recently because they are winning more.
The bullpen is a big reason why the Phillies are winning more. The bullpen logged 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a 7-5 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night (see observations). The Phils lost the opener of the series Monday night then took the next two to win the series. The bullpen picked up four scoreless frames in Tuesday night's win. Nine of the bullpen's 12 outs in that game came via the strikeout.
Over the last 30 games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just 30 earned runs in 107 2/3 innings for an ERA of 2.52. That's the fourth-best mark in the majors over that span. Only the Washington, Boston and Cleveland bullpens have performed better over that span — and all three of those teams are headed to the postseason.
The bullpen's success has helped the Phillies post a 35-37 record after the All-Star break. With three games remaining in the season — all against the Mets — the Phils have a chance to finish over .500 in the second half of the season. That would be a significant accomplishment considering the team was 29 games under .500 before the All-Star break.
The list of relievers who have stepped up in the second half includes lefties Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner and right-handers Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia and closer Hector Neris. Even recent call-up Victor Arano has shined lately. All of these relievers figure strongly in the team's plans for next season.
Neris sputtered in the first half of the season because he couldn't find his splitter. He has it again. It makes his 96-mph fastball better. He struck out two and picked up his 20th straight save since June 28 on Wednesday night.
"Caballo," said Garcia, looking over at Neris after the game.
Indeed. Neris has been a horse.
Garcia has been pretty good, too. Phillies officials used to say Garcia's stuff was just as good as Ken Giles'. Really. It was just that Giles threw more strikes and kept his composure on the mound better. Over the last few months, Garcia has made great strides in both areas. He has given up just 11 earned runs over 47 2/3 innings (2.08 ERA) since June 14.
The last few days have offered a good portrait of Garcia. He failed to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning in Atlanta on Saturday night. Instead of knocking him out of that role, manager Pete Mackanin stuck with Garcia in the eighth and used him to protect leads in that inning on Tuesday and Wednesday. Garcia responded with two scoreless innings.
"You have to trust guys and you have to keep their confidence level up," Mackanin said. "Louie has pitched so well most of the year that it’s pretty obvious that I have to go to him."
Garcia's performance in Wednesday night's win was impressive because he got the third out in the eighth with the potential tying run on third base and the go-ahead run at first base. Dangerous Ryan Zimmerman was up in that situation. Garcia pumped a 99-mph fastball by him for strike two then came back with a wicked slider off the plate for the strikeout. End of threat.
The emergence of this band of Phillies' relievers has coincided with the departures of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit through trades. Back in 2006, young players such as Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley stepped out of the shadows after veteran Bobby Abreu was traded. This situation is similar.
"We got an opportunity and we have to take advantage of it and make a name for ourselves," Garcia said. "Next year, we want to be in this same place. We want to be like those guys."
Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings but his mates rallied with three two-out runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead and the bullpen did the rest.
Hoskins kept the fifth inning alive with a two-out walk and Altherr and Herrera knocked in the runs with a two-run triple and RBI double, respectively.