When the Phillies began the season with losses in their first four games, it seemed the year might yet another miserable one.
But things are looking up for the young, up-and-coming squad at the unofficial halfway point of the season. The Phillies are heading into the All-Star break having won 10 of their last 13 games, punctuated by a 10-3 win Sunday over the Colorado Rockies that gave them a split of their four-game set in Denver (see game recap).
The latest win also illustrated some of the reasons for the Phillies’ optimism looking ahead to the second half. Rookie Zach Eflin (2-2) pitched six strong innings in putting together another solid start and Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp combined for seven hits, including one long homer apiece.
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“Our hitting has come around,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “The first two months, we were at the bottom of the pack. We went on a 10-day road trip to Minnesota, San Francisco, and Arizona and knocked the cover off the ball. We brought it back home to Philadelphia and and it’s continued on. That gave everybody confidence, especially the pitchers. It made them relax, not worry about having to make perfect pitches.”
The Phillies finished the first half at 42-48, fourth in the National League East and 12 games off the pace thanks mostly to a rough stretch in June that included 13 losses in 14 games.
Still, the Phillies are much improved from this time a year ago when finished the first half 29-62, with little or no reason for optimism.
“I’m very pleased with where we’re at, specifically because we started the season 0-4, not knowing how bad it was going to be,” Mackanin said. “I’d like not to be on that rollercoaster ride, and hopefully the valleys are not as low as the peaks are high.”
Rupp said this year's team, dominated by younger players, has begun to bond on the field and in the clubhouse.
“We’re just having fun playing,” Rupp said. “When you struggle a lot and you’re losing every day, it’s hard to come to the ballpark and get up and get going. But we’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of young kids. We keep pushing each other and we’re just having fun and playing good baseball.”
Eflin said there is no reason to put any limitations on what the Phillies can accomplish in the second half of the season.
“We’re looking forward to winning a lot of games,” he said. “Right now, we’re in a good groove. We’re all coming together in the clubhouse and I think we can be something special. We’re looking forward to winning as many games as we can.”
The Phillies open the second half on Friday when they play the opener of a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.