If the Phillies have the type of season they think they can, the type of season they think they will, they will look back at these three games as the stretch in which they notified the baseball world that they were a team to be reckoned with.
A three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves, capped off by Sunday night’s 5-1 win and another Bryce Harper home run, left the Phils as baseball’s only unbeaten team at 3-0.
“No question about it,” winning pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “There’s something to it. There’s no signs of us being complacent. We’re happy with the way the series ended up, especially with the way the Braves played last year and winning the division. We wanted to come out and set the tone in our park. We really did that. I think it sets the tone for the season.”
There are four teams — the Phils, Braves, Nationals and Mets — talented enough to win the NL East and there are six months to go before this thing is decided. But after three games, we know this: The Phillies’ lineup is a lot more potent than it was last year — witness the eight homers it hit in the series, a franchise record for the first three games of a season — and a pretty interesting rivalry is shaping up between the Phils and Braves.
Manager Gabe Kapler was not happy that Braves reliever Shane Carle plunked Rhys Hoskins with a pitch moments after Harper went deep in the seventh inning Sunday night. It wasn’t the first time that Hoskins, who belted a grand slam on opening day, was pitched high and tight in the series. Carle hit Hoskins in the left shoulder and was ejected by home plate umpire Rob Drake.
“It really pisses me off when balls go underneath Rhys Hoskins' chin,” Kapler said after the game. “It really bugs me.
“He's one of our leaders. He is, in many ways, the heartbeat of our club. It really bothers me when it happens.”
It bothered Hoskins, too.
“I hit the ground three times in three days and that’s never fun, especially after the episode last year,” said Hoskins, who suffered a broken jaw on a foul ball in May.
This is a new Phillies team, with a growing chemistry and desire to have fun. The players celebrate home runs with designer handshakes and little dances and that doesn’t always sit well with opponents.
“Don’t give up a homer then,” Hoskins said.
The Phillies don’t see the Braves again until mid-June and by that time this whole thing might be forgotten. But if it isn’t, the two teams play 16 more times and things could get interesting. In the meantime, it will be worth watching how other teams pitch the Phillies, especially if they keep knocking balls over the wall and whooping it up afterward.
“I appreciate how enthusiastic our players are,” Kapler said. “I think celebration is a part of the game and deserved when guys are swinging the bats really well and feeding off each other's energy. I support our ball club in the way they've come out in these first three games, on the field, off the field, celebrating one another.
“I support the way our club is behaving from start to finish. Everything we're doing on the field and off the field in supporting each other is spot on.”
Arrieta had to grind for six innings in cold, blustery conditions. He survived six walks and a hit batsman. The weather had a lot to do with his control issues. He said the ball felt like a cue ball. Braves pitchers walked nine batters and hit two.
A year ago, the Phillies finished the first series of the season at 1-2 and Kapler was being roasted for some of his moves. This year, the Phils come out of the first series unbeaten, full of emotion and ready to take on Washington in another division series beginning Tuesday.
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