The Philadelphia Phillies have gone from the Sixers of Major League Baseball to… well, nobody is quite sure what this team has become.
The Phillies have won 13 of their last 16 since the All-Star break and are easily the hottest team in baseball right now. They haven’t lost back-to-back games in that span and the offense has awakened to the point where multiple home runs are becoming a nightly occurrence.
It is becoming obvious that something has changed for this team, something important. If they had strung together five or six wins, we could just write that off as a fluke. But for this Phillies team to come roaring back to life in such a profound way has to mean that for the players, something has made playing baseball fun again and that is translating into wins.
The only explanation I can come up with has to be the removal of Ryne Sandberg from the equation.
Sandberg resigned as manager of the Phillies on June 26 with the team’s record standing at 26-48. He knew with the hiring of Andy MacPhail as team president that his time with the Phillies was at best limited and he decided to just pack it in and call it a day.
In the aftermath, the Phillies named third base coach Pete Mackanin interim manager and since then the Phillies now stand at 42-65. Their record under Mackanin is 15-17 but, as everyone knows, they are 13-3 since the All-Star break.
So what changed?
Leave it to former Phillie Jimmy Rollins, who was marking his return to Citizens Bank Park for the first time since being traded to the Dodgers, to shed some light on the situation.
In addition, he also says that he has no doubt that the Phillies club house is a very different place under Mackanin:
“[Mackanin] knows the game. That’s why he’s always been in baseball and been kept around. Because he does know the game and he keeps things light. There’s the balance between that as a manager, except no one wants the interim title. But who knows what can happen going forward? But he’s the guy who always kept things light no matter what.”
So could it be that simple? Could the change in manager have made such a difference?
It’s hard to say. The Phillies were still pretty terrible before the All-Star break, going 3-13 in Mackanin’s first 16 games. But it’s hard to argue that something has made this team better and given them the confidence to think they can win when they have no right to.
Is it the youth finally coming into their own? Mackanin deciding not to use platoons anymore and sticking with a solid lineup night in and night out? Or was Sandberg and his no-nonsense, very quiet approach to running this team just not the way the Phillies are meant to do things and they respond better to Mackanin’s low-key, laid back style?
Who knows? But there can be no argument that watching the Phillies play is a lot more fun right now than it has been at any point during the season. Let’s hope it continues right into September and maybe beyond.