The Phillies season hit a speed bump last month when Bryce Harper broke his thumb. The team had been on a tear since firing Joe Girardi, and have been above .500 since June 15—they were eight games under the mark to start the month. But though Harper has not played the field much this year due to elbow issues, he is the team’s undisputed star at the plate. Losing him felt insurmountable.
Well! Since Harper’s injury, the Phillies have continued on a decent pace. They’re in a virtual tie with the Cardinals for the third wild card spot. The hitting has been solid, if a little inconsistent. Pitching has been OK, if frustrating. Their fielding has been among the worst in the league, as expected.
While several players have picked up some slack in the absence of Harper, it’s Kyle Schwarber, the player they signed to a four-year, $79 million contract this offseason, who is having one of the best starts to a Phillies career in history.
Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole. But he did hit two home runs Wednesday after also hitting two homers the night before. He leads the NL with 27 jacks. He was NL Player of the Month for June. He is hitting .226, and that is fine when your OBP is .341 and you have the most homers in the league. But don’t take just my word for it. The Associated Press had a nice lil’ roundup in the recap of last night’s game (which, uh, the Phillies lost 3-2):
- He has the most home runs in Phillies history in a player’s first 80 games with the franchise (Raúl Ibañez had 26 in 2009).
- He is the first Phillies player with back-to-back multi-homer games since Chase Utley in 2006.
- Schwarber had his 19th career multi-homer game and fifth this season. He has seven homers in his last nine games.
- And he’s four away from matching Mike Schmidt for most home runs by a Phillies player before the All-Star break (Mike Schmidt, 31 in 1979).
You may be asking: Is “most homers in first 80 games with the Phillies“ really a thing? Eh, who cares. It’s a new record! Schwarber says nothing has changed about his approach during his recent hot streak: “I just always go back to the process. They’re just happening to go out of the park. It’s not like I’m going up there trying to hit a home run.”
The odd thing is where this masher is in the Phillies lineup: Schwarber is hitting leadoff. His .341 OBP is third on the Phillies behind Harper and Rhys Hoskins, but jeez. The team’s biggest homer guy this year is leading off games? It gets him more at-bats, but wouldn’t it be better if there were people on the bases? Can’t the Phillies find someone else to bat there? Am I sounding like an old man in 2002 complaining about stat geeks and their newfangled ideas? Maybe!
Harper had surgery on his hurt thumb, and may be back in August. In the meantime, Schwarber will just have to keep going up there and not trying to hit home runs.