If Monday was an all-out ambush of Zac Gallen by the relentless Phillies offense, Tuesday was a much more methodical takedown of Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly. And Kyle Schwarber was once again at the center of it.
Though Schwarber’s pair of homers — the 17th and 18th of his postseason career, tying him for seventh on the all-time list — only accounted for two runs in the Phillies’ 10-0 rout in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, his increased offensive output in this series could mean much more to the reigning NL champions moving forward.
Just 24 hours earlier, Schwarber’s leadoff blast spoiled a Citizens Bank Park crowd yearning for action after enduring three days off following the Philly’s emotionally-charged destruction of rival Atlanta in the NLDS. That’s three days for 40,000-plus fans without absolutely losing their minds over one of their beloved Phillies smashing a baseball over the outfield fence. It was plenty long enough, and Schwarber didn’t make them wait any longer. He sent the first pitch from Gallen 117.1 mph off the facing of the second deck in a blink.
Bedlam instantly resumed.
On Tuesday, though, Schwarber opted not to swing at the first pitch, a sinker on the outer half from Kelly. He took a ball inside before grounding out to second base on a perfectly-placed changeup on the outside corner. Schwarber hit it hard, but certainly not 117.1 mph hard, and certainly nowhere near over the fence.
It was Trea Turner who electrified the crowd in the first inning this time, sending a solo shot to left field mere moments later to make it 1-0. But Kelly settled in after that, not allowing a hit until Schwarber returned to the dish with two outs in the third inning.
Kelly’s first pitch this time was a changeup identical to the one Schwarber grounded out on, and Schwarber took this one for a ball. Catcher Gabriel Moreno then set up on the outer half for a heater. Kelly missed his spot, and paid the same price Gallen did the night before with a center-cut fastball to the wrong guy. It didn’t go nearly as far as his leadoff shot Monday, but it counted all the same. Home run, Phillies.
Kelly then again failed to retire Turner but breezed through the rest of the Philadelphia lineup in his second journey through the order. Seemingly improving as he went on and at just 70 pitches through five frames, Kelly earned the trust from manager Torey Lovullo to face Schwarber a third time to lead off the sixth.
Having already tagged Kelly once, Schwarber had to consider how the right-hander would attack him in Round 3.
“Some guys are stubborn with what they wanna do to you,” Schwarber later told FOX Sports. “And then there are guys who will kinda drop their game plan and try to do something else.”
Thus far against Schwarber, Kelly had succeeded with a changeup and failed with the fastball. In the sixth inning, Kelly decided not to mess around with another heater that could end up in the wrong place. He instead leaned all the way into his strengths. His first two pitches were changeups, both of them outside for balls. The third offering, another changeup, landed in the lower outside part of the zone.
“That’s his best pitch,” Schwarber noted. “He’s really effective because he has a plus-plus changeup.”
One problem: He showed Schwarber just enough of what he needed to see. After a handful of cambios drifted too far away from him to do damage, Schwarber finally got one he could handle — and he happily took it for strike one.
“He threw it 2-0 and kinda gave me the window,” Schwarber explained. “That’s what it looks like coming out of there. I think that was the first strike [on a] changeup I saw.”
Kelly came back with the same pitch, a changeup low in the zone but not too far outside.
And this blast, 427 feet to right-center, was much more convincing than the first. While the rest of the Phillies lineup struggled to solve Kelly, Schwarber aptly adjusted in each at-bat and delivered the definitive blows. His second homer off Kelly soon led to his departure and was the start of a four-run rally for Philadelphia.
“It was a little bit more down and away,” Schwarber said. “But, I mean, it came out of the same height. So those are things that you look for.”
As the Phillies sit just two wins from returning to the World Series, there is no shortage of déjà vu when it comes to this October run compared to last year’s. Schwarber’s showings feel especially familiar.
Over the final 30 games of the 2022 regular season, Schwarber hit .239/.366/.578 with 10 home runs. He sure seemed to be heating up at the right time. Once the postseason began, though, Schwarber scuffled initially. While the Phillies swept the Cardinals and then defeated the Braves in four games, Schwarber recorded just one hit in 27 plate appearances — a single in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Once the NLCS began, however, Schwarber turned it on. His titanic 488-foot homer off the Padres‘ Yu Darvish in Game 1 landed where few, if any, balls have landed at Petco Park. It was the first of six long balls he’d launch over the remainder of Philly’s playoff run, which included three in the World Series. By the end of last October, no one remembered how cold he’d started.
Over the final 30 games of this past regular season, Schwarber hit .239/.390/.569 with 11 home runs. Again, he seemed primed to carry such momentum into the most important month of the season. And again, Schwarber struggled through the first two rounds. Amid a sweep of the Marlins followed by another four-game series victory over the Braves, Schwarber notched four hits (and no homers) in 27 plate appearances.
A dry spell of this length is completely normal for any hitter, not to mention one as notoriously streaky as Schwarber. However, it had been over two weeks since Schwarber last sent a ball over the fence. That was the most days he had gone without homering since August 2022. Meanwhile, the rest of the Phillies couldn’t stop hitting homers — 13 to be exact, over those first six playoff games (and now an MLB-record 15 over their past four).
Just like a year ago, everything changed when Schwarber stepped into the box against his third opponent of October. It’s time for the NLCS? It’s time for Kyle Schwarber.
“I cannot wait to play a baseball game tomorrow!” Schwarber beamed in the locker room following Philadelphia’s Game 1 victory.
After finishing second in the majors with 47 dingers in the regular season, Schwarber had finally gotten in on his team’s postseason home run derby. You can forgive the universally renowned teammate for being eager as ever to return to the batter’s box at Citizens Bank Park after breaking out of his prolonged slump.
“I’ve always said I will go 0-for-4 if we win the baseball game. I don’t care,” Schwarber reiterated after Game 2. “This isn’t about personal stats. This is about trying to find a way to win a baseball game.”
But the best version of the Phillies — and the version that gives them the best chance to win the championship it covets — is one where Schwarber is seeing the ball well and swinging the bat accordingly. His ability to impact the game within seconds, as he did in Game 1, or more gradually as he did in Game 2, is a uniquely powerful element of this Philadelphia offense.
The Phillies ultimately didn’t need Schwarber in the first two rounds, and he was fine with that. But if the lefty slugger is indeed embarking on one of his trademark hot streaks, this lineup just became that much more terrifying.
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
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