NEW YORK — Every year in every sport, a dozen or so teams play the "nobody believes in us" card at some point in the season. Much of the time it's nonsense, just a way for a group of players to band together.
With the 2019 Phillies, it is true. Nobody believes in them as an actual National League contender. Nobody believes they can make the run necessary to claim the second NL wild-card spot. If anyone is betting on them to make the playoffs, it's probably because they like the odds and potential payout.
And that is for good reason. The 2019 Phillies were supposed to be much more consistent than the 2018 group, which team president Andy MacPhail called the most inconsistent team he had ever been around. Because of injuries and a glaring lack of pitching, it hasn't been the case. The season is 87 percent complete and the Phillies still haven't won more than four in a row or sustained a stretch of dynamic performance in the batter's box or on the mound.
The baseball world's perception of the Phillies came up in the manager's office after their 5-0 win over the Mets Saturday night, which featured seven scoreless innings from Drew Smyly.
Smyly pitched with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. I think we all came in with a chip on our shoulders," Gabe Kapler said. "Some emotion happening in the dugout today and throughout the clubhouse. We know we've been written off and we don't care. We understand that's the sentiment and we don't believe it. Smyly went out and pitched today like he didn't have a care in the world and had something to prove.
It was a strong outing from Smyly, who owns the only two starts of at least seven scoreless innings in the Phillies' last 55 games. He saved the Phillies' bullpen, which was not at full strength and has not inspired much confidence recently in late and close situations.
Smyly was aided by a game-saving catch in the first inning by Adam Haseley. After robbing a home run in center field in Cincinnati, Haseley ran and leaped to save three runs on a bases-loaded gapper Saturday.
"We've seen some awesome moments," Kapler said of the rookie's defense. "He's a fluid runner out there and that allows him to see the ball well. His eyes stay locked on the ball because his head doesn't bounce when he runs. He has excellent eye-hand coordination and I think those two things combined will lead to catches that others don't make.
"I can't wait to see him be more assertive and demand to catch the ball over other outfielders (and infielders). I think with experience and reps, he can be an above-average major-league outfielder at any of the three spots. He still has work to do but is definitely trending in the right direction."
Haseley was in right field because Bryce Harper did not play. His availability for Sunday's game will be determined by how sore his hand is in the morning.
Without Harper, the top of the Phillies' order stepped up. Cesar Hernandez, J.T. Realmuto and Corey Dickerson were 8 for 9 the first three times through the lineup. Dickerson continues to thrive with runners in scoring position and Realmuto continues to hit everyone. Realmuto would be a candidate for second-half MVP if such an award existed, based on his offense, defense and baserunning.
With 21 games to play, the Phillies trail the Cubs by three games and the Diamondbacks by 1½ games for the final playoff spot.
"All three of those games that we just lost, we could have easily won. We just didn't get the big hit or make the big pitch at the right time and we lose by one run," Smyly said. "None of us have lost confidence. There's still a lot of games left and regardless of the standings or the schedule, if we win, we're gonna put ourselves in a really good position. I don't think anyone's feeling that tired physically.
"The time is now and we have to go do it."
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