PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies opened the month of June with three losses to the once struggling Giants at AT&T Park.
Phillies right-hander Jacob Arrieta demanded an accountability check following the sweep. He called his team's response "a key moment in our season." The Phillies lost four of their next five games, but they rallied to win 12 of their last 19 games, including Saturday night's 3-2 victory over the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies finished June on a high note, reaching the halfway point of their season on pace to win 88 games. It puts them in a legitimate position to take a run at their first postseason berth since they won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011.
"I think it always felt realistic to us," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said about being a playoff team. "But certainly the closer we get and the more we hang around … we're not just in the race, but in many ways in a really strong position, yeah, it does become more tangible, it does become more real, and we do have to prepare even harder."
The Phillies had a grueling June schedule, the most difficult month of their season. The only team they played that does not have a winning record as of Saturday is the Rockies. Otherwise, their other 24 games were against teams with winning records, including the Yankees, Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Nationals and Giants.
"We handled our own for sure," outfielder Aaron Altherr said. "We played a lot of playoff-caliber teams and I think we held our own pretty well. I think we have a good squad here and are going to keep playing better."
Perhaps it is fitting that Saturday's victory felt like one of the most rewarding ones of the season for the players. Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez left the game after Nationals right fielder Adam Eaton ripped a 96-mph line drive off his right forearm. It meant an overworked bullpen needed to record the final 21 outs.
The bullpen allowed just five hits and one run the rest of the way.
Odubel Herrera's solo homer to right in the third inning tied the game at 1. Jesmuel Valentin, Jorge Alfaro and Altherr hit three consecutive two-out doubles in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter and Adam Morgan combined to allow one run in five-plus innings. Morgan put Trea Turner and Bryce Harper on base to start the eighth when Yacksel Rios entered the game. He threw 41 pitches Friday, but he worked out of the inning without allowing a run. His fastball averaged 99.1 mph. Seranthony Dominguez picked up his seventh save, pitching a scoreless ninth.
After the Nationals leave town Sunday, the Phillies play 20 of their next 23 games against teams with losing records. It could be their opportunity to make those postseason feelings a little more real.
"Yeah, I could say we're getting a little taste of it and we know what's coming," Velasquez said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Vinny throws lefty: Eaton ripped a line drive off Velasquez's arm, but he still made the throw to first base to end the second inning. Velasquez dropped his glove, picked up the ball with his left hand and threw left-handed to first base to get Eaton.
"I know I'm capable of throwing left-handed, and I was just hoping for a strike," Velasquez said. "I've thrown lefty numerous times. I know how accurate I can be and I know how not accurate I can be."
Yack attack: Rios entered the game with runners on first and second and no outs in the eighth inning. Anthony Rendon lined out, Juan Soto popped out and Mark Reynolds grounded out to preserve the Philies' one-run lead.
"We had no intention of using him in that kind of game," Kapler said. "We almost didn't have a choice. We don't have many options. We have to figure out a way to get length and Rios was ready for Reynolds, but it turns out we had to use him a little bit earlier and he just came in and induced contact. His arm was definitely alive at 99 [mph]."
Herrera's 14 homers are tied with Willie Montanez (14 in 1971) for the most by a Phillies center fielder before July. Only Cy Williams (21 in 1923) hit more. Ten of Herrera's 14 homers have tied the game or given the Phillies the lead.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Alfaro fired a rocket to second base to catch Turner stealing to end the fifth inning. Alfaro's throw tracked at 92.5 mph, making it the hardest throw on a caught stealing and the second-hardest throw overall by a catcher in four seasons, according to Statcast™. Alfaro's pop time (1.77 seconds) was the third-fastest on a caught stealing in Statcast™ history.
Alfaro had a 94.0 mph throw earlier this season, although it was an errant one.
HE SAID IT
"I think we're in a really solid position. I felt like we were in a solid position coming into the month and we knew that this was going to be a major test. We knew there were going to be bumps and bruises along the way, and there were. It was a really difficult road trip when we went West, but I think we went toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in baseball and we came out … obviously we have a long way to go … but I think we're in a good position, a strong position." -- Kapler, on finishing June at 13-14 following a 1-7 start
Arrieta (5-6, 3.54 ERA) faces Nationals left-hander Giovany Gonzalez (6-5, 3.68 ERA) on Sunday afternoon at 1:35 p.m. ET in the final game of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Arrieta hopes July is kinder than June. After Arrieta posted a 0.90 ERA in five starts in May, he posted a 6.66 ERA in five starts in June.