After winning eight games straight, the Philadelphia Phillies have jumped into first place in the National League East. As many thought, the NL East is going to be a tight race towards the end of the year, with the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves still in the mix. The Phillies have caught fire at just the right time with less than two months left, and will need to sustain it from here on out. Here are some keys to how they can do that and capture the East crown.
Bryce is hot and needs to stay hot
Bryce Harper has put together a solid 2021 campaign, but injuries have slowed him down from what could have been a monstrous season. However, Harper seems to be fully healthy, swinging in the heart of the Philly lineup and has been a force for the Phils in August. Through the eight-game win streak, Harper has slashed a .367/.457/.933 batting average to go along with four home runs and seven RBIs. He is seeing the ball extremely well as he only struck out twice and walked four times in the same eight-game stretch. As the Phillies lineup gets healthier, these numbers can go up as the team strives to reach the next level, and it all starts with the superstar batting third.
Aaron Nola needs a second half turnaround
For who was supposed to be the ace of the Phillies starting rotation, Nola has been one of this year’s biggest disappointments. Nola is 7-6 with a 4.35 ERA (earned run average) and 1.14 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), less than stellar and unexpected from the righty in his seventh season in the majors. If it wasn’t for a Cy Young-caliber year from Zack Wheeler, the Phillies may not be in the postseason picture right now. With less than two months left, Nola has to be better than what he has been doing, which he has shown glimpses of this year. With the Phillies playing with a ton of confidence right now, maybe he can find some ease and put together a string of quality starts down the stretch.
Ian Kennedy solidifying the closer’s role
The bullpen has put Phillies fans through enough year after year. Dave Dombrowski, Phillies President of Baseball Operations, traded for Kennedy, along with Kyle Gibson, to address the bullpen need and gave up a lot to do it. Since Kennedy started closing games back in 2019, he is 48 for 53 in save opportunities, and this year, he is 18 for 19. There’s no need to mess around with anyone else; if there’s a save opportunity, Kennedy should be the only pitcher jogging out of the bullpen. He has proven he is reliable in the closer’s role, and the Phillies gave up Spencer Howard for Kennedy to keep shutting the door in the ninth.
After a tremendous stretch of Phillies baseball, Citizens Bank Park is packed and electric for the first time in a long time as the fans are starting to believe that this Phillies team can return to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. There’s still plenty of season left and the East race will go down to the wire. However, the pieces are clicking at the right time, the energy is felt all throughout the sea of red and white at CBP, and the boys in pinstripes are playing with more confidence than any other team in the league. It’s going to be a fun and intriguing end of the season in Philadelphia.