MLB playoffs 2023: How Phillies are dominating D-backs in NLCS

PHILADELPHIA — For 2½ rounds in the 2023 MLB playoffs, the Philadelphia Phillies‘ offense has been an unstoppable machine, scoring 46 runs in eight games.

But that wasn’t always the case.

After an inconsistent regular season, Phillies hitters got together shortly after securing a postseason bid and decided that the arrival of playoff baseball meant they would need to put together better at-bats. And a funny thing happened after they focused on making pitchers work more throughout October: The home runs started to come in bunches.

In two dominating victories over the Arizona Diamondbacks to start the NLCS, the long balls have come often — and early. First there was a three-home run onslaught in the first three innings of the series opener, then another trio of long balls in a 10-0 Game 2 blowout. It’s on the strength of that dominating offense that the Phillies leave for Arizona with a commanding 2-0 lead.

“The focus is there,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said Tuesday. “The intent is there. We’re not chasing as much as we did early in the season. We’re trying to cut down our swings and just put the ball in play. Then you turn around and we’re hitting home runs all over the field and these guys are doing a ton of damage.”

The results have been stunning. The Phillies have hit 19 home runs in their eight playoff games, 15 in their past four and six in the first two games of the NLCS, The plan laid out in hitters’ meetings going into the series was simple: Be ready to hit, and don’t let a good pitch go by you.

“Look for center cut and react to everything,” assistant hitting coach Jason Camilli said after Game 1. “That’s pretty much what the game plan was.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information, their plan has resulted in six home runs hit this postseason coming off the first pitch of an AB, four on the second, three on the third and four more on the fourth. The Phillies aren’t waiting around. And 12 of the 19 have come off fastballs or related hard pitches such as cutters and sinkers.

“Overall, they did an unbelievable job of executing the game plan,” Camilli said.

No one has taken to it more than the heart and soul of the Phillies, leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber, who belted his 49th and 50th home runs of 2023 in Game 2 off starter Merrill Kelly — one day after he opened Game 1 with a first-pitch blast off Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen that immediately set the tone at a rocking Citizens Bank Park.

Known by his teammates as Mr. 1-0 because of his propensity to give the Phillies a lead on the first at-bat of the game, Schwarber can ignite the dugout. His at-bats — like those of teammate Bryce Harper, who also went deep in the first inning of the series opener — have everyone in the Phillies dugout watching on the edge of their seat.

“It’s bonkers in there,” backup catcher Garrett Stubbs said. “Some of them look like missiles and some are colossal. He had both on Tuesday. We loved it.”

Schwarber has the reputation of a free swinger — and his 47 regular-season home runs did come with an MLB-high 215 strikeouts — but he says that all-or-nothing approach is not what the Phillies are all about.

“I think that’s something everyone is misconstruing,” Schwarber said. “We’re not just saying swing at everything. We’re trying to get good pitches to hit. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re not going up there to wildly hack. … I’m looking for a pitch in a spot. If not, I’m going to work an at-bat. I’m not up there automatically swinging.”

Camilli calls it “selective-aggressive,” and the selective part of that equation has been obvious: The Phillies have dropped their chase rate — 26th in MLB during the regular season — five points, from 31% to 26%.

During the two consecutive early power surges that left two of the NL’s best pitchers reeling, the mantra for the Phillies was repeated throughout the clubhouse: Be ready to hit.

It’s not about getting ready in the batter’s box in the allotted time the pitch clock allows — it’s a mindset when you walk up to the plate. Pitchers like to throw early strikes. Hitters need to hit them. It’s as simple as that.

“Those guys that challenge you are fun,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “The best ones throw strikes. At this time of year, you’re going to get strikes. The best starting pitchers in the game have swing and miss stuff in the zone so we happened not to miss those pitches that they’ve left in the middle of the plate.”

Turner took a page out of Schwarber’s book in Game 2, hitting a first inning home run, beginning the eventual rout. Before the night began, he called the team’s hitting philosophy ”old school.”

“It’s less information in a good way,” he explained. “We have all the information. We have everything we need, but we’ve got a lineup of guys that just want to hit and play baseball. I think that’s refreshing as well. Sometimes you can get caught up a lot in the video or the numbers and different things, and I think throughout the season, we’ve kind of learned what we like and what we don’t like.”

“We’re talking in the dugout,” Stubbs said. “It’s the postseason. These guys know how to take playoff at-bats. I can’t believe how good the at-bats have been.”

It starts in the hitter’s meetings where it’s a ”communal” effort, according to Stubbs. Anyone can speak up, and the goal is to come up with a specific plan for the opposing pitcher, seeking out specific tendencies, like they did against Gallen in Game 1.

“The main thing that we talked about that translated into the game was when there’s runners on be ready to hit because he has that quick slide step,” third baseman Alec Bohm said. “And from what we saw from other teams facing him recently, they weren’t on the fastball. They were late.”

Talk about it, take it into the game, light up the scoreboard. It has worked so far for the Phillies, who won again Tuesday as Mr. 1-0 helped them to the 2-0 series lead.

“As a catcher, I know what the opposing pitcher and catcher are thinking about all day long before a game,” Realmuto said of Schwarber. “Even the night before. They’re worried about that first at-bat. They’re worried about the first pitch. They have anxiety.

“He’s ready to hit.”

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