SAN DIEGO — There are still 46 games to play in this Phillies season and seven weeks of pennant-race baseball to navigate, but on the night this team beat the San Diego Padres, 5-1, to move a game up on the Atlanta Braves for first-place in the National League East (see first take), it’s worth providing this little progress report:
The Phillies’ record is 65-51.
They are one win away from matching their victory total for all of last season.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Aaron Nola, who lived through a last-place finish and a 66-96 record last season.
“I mean, winning's a lot more fun. It's a lot more addicting. Chemistry is better. I think overall we're a lot better team than we were last year. We knew it coming into spring training. We knew it going into the season that we were going to be a better team.
“We're playing as a team. We're playing as a whole. Guys are coming through in the clutch throughout the whole team. It's not just one guy or two guys. It's everybody, one through nine.”
Nola has been a huge contributor all season and he was again with six shutout innings Saturday night.
He is 13-3 in 24 starts and has a 2.28 ERA, sixth-best in the majors. He has allowed just five earned runs over 33 innings in his last five starts away from Citizens Bank Park.
“He’s really good,” said shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who joined the Phillies in a trade-deadline deal two weeks ago. “He is one of the guys you didn’t want to face when I was with the Mets.”
Nola survived some early command issues. He stranded six base runners in the first three innings before hitting a stride. He was backed by plenty of offense. The Phillies had been shut out in their previous two games and carried a 19-inning scoring drought into the contest. But things turned early as the club rallied for two first-inning runs against San Diego rookie Walker Lockett.
“It's always good when we score early,” Nola said. “We've been in kind of a rut a little bit. But we know what we have. It's just a matter of time that the offense turns around. It did tonight. They have confidence in themselves, and they know we're going to put up runs.”
Cesar Hernandez led off the game with a walk and scored on a triple by Nick Williams. Two batters later, Cabrera stroked an RBI double and the Phils were on their way.
Maikel Franco (No. 19) homered in the fourth and Hernandez (No. 10) clubbed one in the fifth to highlight a two-run inning. Rhys Hoskins singled and scored the second run in that inning. The hit snapped an 0-for-22 skid for Hoskins.
The four extra-base hits in the first five innings were as many as the Phils had in the first four games of the trip. They scored just seven runs in the first four games.
“We got some big hits,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Cesar's homer was huge. Mikey Franco's homer was enormous as well.
“Anytime you're able to jump on the opposition early with a guy like Aaron Nola on the mound, it gives you a lot of confidence. Our guys showed that in the dugout. I actually thought the energy in the dugout preceded the outcome. I thought that was kind of cool. Our guys were especially energetic going into today's game.”
The bullpen picked up three innings of one-run ball after Nola departed. Victor Arano continued his excellent work by cleaning up a potential mess in the seventh and Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez closed it out.
Dominguez’ fastball was consistently 97 mph and it touched 98.
The Phillies are 2-3 with one game remaining on the road trip. They will, at some point, blow past last season’s win total. They will look to equal it Sunday behind Jake Arrieta on their way, they hope, to bigger and better things.
“I think it's an indication and evidence that our players have developed,” Kapler said of the potential to equal last year’s win total with seven weeks to go in the season. “That's probably the most notable thing.
“It was a good team in spring training; we felt confident in that. But we also knew in order for us to have a really good year, we would have to have our players take some steps forward. I think we've seen that with a number of our guys. Nick Williams jumps out to me as a guy who has taken real steps forward from where he was at the beginning of the season. Our starting pitching has taken real steps forward. And maybe the bullpen has been even better than we thought it was going to be. Even more dependable than we thought it was going to be.”