“We have a really good lineup, and it’s a long lineup,” Phillies Manager Rob Thomson said. “Offense comes and goes. We have to stay on it.”
Thomson has to say that. History suggests that he is right. But as the Phillies clobbered three more homers and piled up 11 hits in Tuesday’s win, they looked like a group built to defy all the accepted rules of what is supposed to be a pitching-powered month. For example, the Phillies have a plus-33 run differential through their first eight postseason games, the largest run differential over any eight-game span in postseason history, according to MLB researcher Sarah Langs. They have trailed at the end of only two full innings this postseason. And they have outhomered their opponents 19-4, a 15-homer differential accumulated thanks to multihomer games from four different players in the past week.
“It’s like having a team full of three-pointers against somebody that can only shoot twos,” Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo said, and he would know. Until they arrived in Philadelphia for the NLCS, the Diamondbacks were slugging their way through October with 13 homers in their first five games. That is a remarkable number — until one considers that, after Kyle Schwarber homered twice and Trea Turner once Tuesday night, the Phillies hold the record for homers in a five-game postseason span with 17.
“The biggest thing is just when we get our hitter’s pitch, we don’t want to miss it. That’s the biggest thing right now. I feel like we’re doing a really good job of really locking into that and cutting down the swings,” said Schwarber, who hit his 17th and 18th career postseason homers in the win, tying him with Reggie Jackson for most postseason homers from the left side of the plate. “Next thing you know, it’s showing in the slug.”
The remarkable thing about Tuesday night’s win was that Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly fared well, relatively speaking. Pitching against the Phillies right now requires some handicapping. They have 15 homers in their past four games. No one is faring particularly well.
Kelly took a winding route to the NLCS mound. He came up in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system but never cracked the majors. He went to pitch in South Korea at 26 and stayed for four years. The Diamondbacks signed him ahead of the 2019 season, gave him a spot in the rotation as he led the NL in losses, helped him rehab from always-dangerous thoracic outlet surgery, then relied on him to eat innings in a lean 2021 season.
By this March, he was starting the World Baseball Classic championship game for Team USA. Six months later, he was starting Game 2 of the NLCS, the only pitcher standing between his underdog squad and a two-game deficit.
Given his path, it would be hard to blame Kelly for thinking he has seen (and heard) it all in baseball. But he did raise a few eyebrows Monday when he wondered aloud just how different the vaunted Citizens Bank Park atmosphere really is from the average high-stakes ambiance.
“I haven’t obviously heard this place on the field, but I would be very surprised if it trumped that Venezuela game down in Miami,” Kelly said. “When Trea hit that grand slam, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced — at least baseball-wise — I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an atmosphere like that, so I hope that this isn’t louder than that.”
Trea, of course, refers to the Phillies’ Trea Turner, one of Kelly’s teammates on Team USA. Turner was asked Tuesday what he thought about Kelly’s comments. He smiled.
“I would just wait and see,” he said. “And we’ll see what he says after.”
Turner was the second man Kelly faced Tuesday night. He was the first to homer against him, giving the Phillies another first-inning lead with his third homer of the postseason. Two innings later, Schwarber hit a low line drive to right that sneaked over the wall to give the Phillies a two-run lead, at which point the crowd serenaded Kelly with chants of “Merr-ill! Merr-ill!” Perhaps he had heard that before somewhere in his travels. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter.
By that time, the Phillies had scored seven runs in the series, five of them on solo homers. In the regular season, 14.5 percent of the flyballs the Phillies hit went for home runs. After Tuesday’s game, 22.5 percent of the flyballs they hit this postseason were homers. For reference, no team was above 20 percent in the regular season. More than half the runs the Phillies have scored this postseason have come via homers, including three of the four runs they plated against Kelly.
“That means that the other half of the runs came from stringing hits together,” Thomson said. “So we can do it both ways.”
Indeed, Kelly’s efforts looked more impressive in hindsight, because once he departed the Phillies erupted. They scored three more runs in the sixth — one of them charged to Kelly — and four in the seventh, aided by a J.T. Realmuto double that broke the game open. By the time it was over, Philadelphia had 10 runs on 11 hits. The Phillies had emptied their bench, replacing Schwarber with Jake Cave, who proceeded to hit a ball to the wall in left-center to start the bottom of the eighth, only to be thrown out at third when he got a little too excited to be part of the barrage. Every Phillies starter but one, rookie Johan Rojas, reached base Tuesday. Everyone but Rojas and Nick Castellanos, who has been one of the more prolific producers in every other game this postseason, finished their night with at least one hit.
“I guess you just have to try to get them to chase?” Philadelphia right-hander Taijuan Walker, who faced these Phillies while with the New York Mets last year, said in an attempt to explain how he would pitch to his teammates, throwing his palms to the air. “But then you have Kyle Schwarber, who walked  times.
“I don’t know. I thought this lineup was pretty deep 1 through 9 last year. Then they add Trea. [Alec] Bohm gets another year under his belt. Stott gets another year under his belt. [Nick] Castellanos has become a whole different player. You can’t make any mistakes.”
And if you do, the Phillies hitters are not the only ones doling out punishment. It is important to note that Phillies starting pitchers also seem to catch the same inexplicable bug as their offensive counterparts, transforming into something better than their norm in October. Aaron Nola threw six scoreless innings and struck out seven, almost all of them while the game was still close, while he was under pressure to keep it there. The Phillies now have the lowest ERA in the first eight games of a single postseason (1.39) since the 1983 Orioles, according to MLB. Good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting this time of year. But the best strategy appears to be employing both.