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Facing the best, brings out best in Phils' bats

Bats have come alive after facing Greinke, Kershaw and Bumgarner over three-day span

PHILADELPHIA -- A few weeks ago the Phillies were struggling mightily. Between June 24 and July 7, the team went 3-10 and dropped to 28 games below .500. Then things got even tougher.

Over a three-day span, the team faced All-Star starting pitchers Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner back-to-back-to-back. The Phillies lost all three games by a combined score of 26-2 and struck out 31 times.

Then something surprising happened. The Phillies' fate turned for the better. In 16 contests since those three games, the Phillies have a 12-4 record and have scored 5.31 runs per game. Twice in that span the Phillies have either matched or set a season-high in runs scored and eight times they have recorded double-digit hits in a game.

Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin has said many times he doesn't quite know what has changed in his team that has led to this offensive eruption. But he did offer one possibility.

"I think what happened was when we faced Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner and then had the break, I think everybody else looks easy," Mackanin said.

Mackanin said that in jest, but the hypothesis isn't wholly unbelievable. Facing any pitching, even elite Major League pitching, after being baffled by three of the leagues' aces could serve a similar purpose to putting a donut on your bat when taking warm-up swings; after deliberately making your job harder, even the difficult tasks seem easier.

To see whether or not Mackanin's theory has any founding, there are a few comparisons to look at. The easiest one is to look at other teams who have faced 2015 All-Stars back-to-back-to-back this season. Aside from the Phillies, only two other teams have done that this season: Kansas City and Texas.

The Rangers, after facing Kershaw, Greinke and Chris Sale, did the exact opposite of the Phillies, going 4-12 in their next 16 and averaging 3.31 runs per game. The Royals, who faced Sale, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole on three-straight days, split what the Rangers and Phils did, going 6-5 since that stretch and averaging 3.82 runs per game.

Based off this season's small sample, facing three aces in a row doesn't necessarily work as a palate cleanser. The sample of teams that have faced Kershaw and Greinke one after another is significantly larger but the results are just as inconclusive. Of the 15 times teams have had to move on after facing the Dodgers' 1-2 punch, six teams have had winning records over their next 16 games, eight have had losing records and one has gone 8-8 with records ranging from 11-5 to 4-12.

With data from this season looking as if it doesn't support the idea that great pitching makes good pitching look worse, the Phillies are still looking for an explanation for their offensive renaissance. But if history is any indication this streak might end where it began. The Phillies have to face Greinke on Thursday.

Nick Suss is an associate reporter for
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