BOSTON – Raise your hand if you saw this coming.
Keep it up if you saw it coming like this.
Not many of you, huh?
The Boston Red Sox might not be having the season they envisioned as they languish in third place in the American League East, but they are still the defending World Series champions and they still have plenty of thunder sticks in their bat rack. They entered Wednesday leading the majors in batting average (.276) and were third in runs per game (5.78) and fourth in OPS (.827).
This was the offense the Phillies had to stop during a two-day visit to Fenway Park.
This was the offense the Phillies did stop.
The Phils completed a rousing two-game interleague sweep of the Sox with a 5-2 win on Wednesday night. The Phils beat the Sox, 3-2, on Tuesday night.
Two wins while scoring just eight runs. Take a bow, pitching staff.
“I remember what it’s like to play here and how difficult it is for a team to come in and beat this team in the middle of the summer,” Phillies manager and former Red Sox player Gabe Kapler said. “Defending world champions. More specifically, it’s one of the best lineups in baseball and something we’re really paying close attention to. Our pitchers did a good job for two days straight. Our bullpen, in particular, was excellent.”
The Phillies’ bullpen has been ravaged by injuries. Just rattle off the names – Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano – of those who have gone down. In their stead, the team is using starters who’ve lost their spot in the rotation, guys who have spent significant time in the minors this season and a handful of castoffs from other organizations.
So many of them came up big in this series. So many of them came up big Wednesday night. The bullpen delivered 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the two games, including 5 1/3 in relief of Drew Smyly on Wednesday night.
Hughes got a huge ground ball from defending AL MVP Mookie Betts to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. Morin struck out Betts (for the second night in a row) in the seventh, Alvarez got the game’s biggest out (a strikeout of Chris Owings) with runners on second and third in a two-run game to end the eighth.
So many big performances from the often-maligned Phillies’ bullpen. And so many of these guys weren’t even a twinkle in Kapler’s eye a few weeks ago.
Morin, who has pitched scoreless ball in 11 of 13 appearances with the Phils, was on his way to going on waivers before the Phillies snagged him in a cash deal from Minnesota. Hughes was plucked off waivers from the Reds last week. Suarez is a rookie working as a reliever for the first time in his career. Alvarez joined the Phillies from Anaheim in a nondescript trade for Luis Garcia over the winter.
These unheralded relievers, castoffs from other clubs in some case, were the Phillies’ lifeline in this series.
“I think that when that happens, players can get a chip on their shoulder,” Kapler said. “They can have something to prove. They can say, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong for either trading me, DFAing me, sending me down.’ And that can bring out the best performance, especially with guys who have done it for several years in the past like Morin has, like (another castoff Blake) Parker has, like Alvarez has. And like Hughes has.”
Is getting let go by another club a motivator?
“I try to not be vindictive,” Hughes said. “I try to focus on winning today. At the same time, it is eye-opening because it lets you know there’s things you need to work on to get better. That’s where I need to be. When you’re vindictive, you lose focus.”
Alvarez is one of the few Phillies relievers who have withstood the test of time this season. He has been an unsung difference-maker in the bullpen.
“I don’t care if I get noticed,” he said. “I’m just trying to help the team. When they need me, I’ll be there.”
The Phillies didn’t hit a ton in this series. They had just 13 hits, but they made them count. Bryce Harper (two-run homer) and Corey Dickerson (RBI triple and RBI single in the final three innings) had big hits Wednesday night. Harper also made a huge play in the field. Red Sox fans heckled him mercilessly. Kapler even took note of it before Harper’s two-run homer in the fifth.
“They were on him pretty good up until that moment,” Kapler said. “That was a pretty explosive moment for the dugout celebration. I’m really happy for Bryce to be able to come up big in that moment.”
The Phillies are six games over .500 and two back in the NL wild-card race.
Now they face a very interesting weekend – three games in Miami against the NL’s worst team. The Phils are just 6-7 against the Marlins this season.
With just 36 games left, the Phils need to clean up on the Marlins. A poor showing in Miami after a sweep in Boston would be like drowning in the bathtub after a successful swim across the English Channel and the Phils can’t afford for that to happen.