Kyle Schwarber’s ‘huge home runs’: The story of the Phillies’ first half, told through his biggest outbursts


The morning after life without Bryce Harper began, the door to Rob Thomson’s office at Petco Park was open. No one knew then that the Phillies would go 11-8 in the ensuing three weeks. Kevin Long, the batting coach, came into the office to speak. They knew they couldn’t replace Harper’s power in the middle of the lineup, but there was one hitter who could come closest.

They talked about where Kyle Schwarber should hit.

It’s a debate that went on for weeks outside the interim manager’s office, but the conversation didn’t last long that morning. If the Phillies had to do that, they would do it with their two best hitters — Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins — staying where they were at the top of the roster. There was no need to panic. No need to rearrange things. It was unconventional because Schwarber is not the quintessential first hitter. No one would have faulted the Phillies for dropping Schwarber into a more traditional power position in the batting order.

But the thought then — and now — was how Schwarber found himself in the midst of so many critical moments during a bizarre first half for the Phillies. They were a team built on offense, but showed solid rotation and a capable bullpen to go 49-43. They fired the manager. They lost their star hitter and solid second baseman to broken fingers, and the hitter signed to a $100 million contract this spring has homered in 43 games since manager Joe Girardi was fired. None of this makes sense.

Schwarber was a .181/.301/.398 hitter on Memorial Day morning. The Phillies were six games under .500. They didn’t enter the All-Star six-game break over .500 just because of Schwarber. Other players have performed better than him.

But he has become an irreplaceable presence inside the clubhouse and on the pitch. He remained atop the roster, batting more frequently than any other Phillies hitter, and he blasted the second-most homers before the All-Star break (29) in franchise history.

Kyle Schwarber leads the National League with 29 homers. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today)

He’s already fourth in franchise history in home runs by a first hitter – with 70 games to play.





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“It doesn’t surprise me,” Long said as June turned into July. “I saw Kyle Schwarber as probably the best hitter I’ve ever seen doing my job. I saw him last year. It was, ‘Don’t take your eyes off him because he’s going to do something special.’ It was a very similar race – except it had a lot more home runs, like first pitch or second pitch. It’s more… he’ll have them later. I would say he gets them more in bigger situations. These are huge home runs he hit. He becomes a clutch, clutch player.

Schwarber will compete in Monday night’s Home Run Derby and will be the only Phillie to compete in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. This is the story of the Phillies’ first half, told through Schwarber’s biggest homers by Win Probability Added (WPA).

1. May 30 vs. San Francisco — Bottom of the ninth, empty bases, no outs: Homers from Schwarber (11) on a fly ball to center field.

WPA: .437

The Schwarber swing that added the most winning odds to a game in the first half, naturally, was a game the Phillies later lost in extra innings. It is a reminder of all that has changed since then. The Mets had just swept the Phillies; The capper, a blown lead surrendered when a rookie outfielder connected on his first major league hit, a home run against Corey Knebel.

At the time, I felt like everything was burning. It was Remembrance Day. Then Schwarber connected on an 0-1 slider to tie the game. Schwarber was still all or nothing at this point. He entered this day 2 for his last 26 without circuit. It was a huge swing.

It wasn’t enough. Nick Castellanos singled out and Roman Quinn, who ran, was caught stealing to finish ninth. Girardi picked Andrew Bellatti for the 10th and he gave up a home run. (He would do the same in extra innings the following night, another Phillies loss.) The Phillies were on a bad streak. But June was near.

2. June 26 at San Diego — Leading seventh, runners at first and second, no outs: Schwarber’s home runs (21) on a fly ball to left field. Bryson Stott scores. Matt Vierling scores.

WPA: .377

Even before Harper succumbed to the broken thumb, Schwarber had become a presence inside the clubhouse. It took time; Schwarber signed after spring training began and started slowly in April, but once he felt more comfortable with himself, his personality was allowed to shine through. Players would gather around his locker after games. He’s become something of a social chair on road trips, organizing off-pitch activities for his teammates. Schwarber is the guy who tore two ligaments in his left knee in April 2016, then didn’t play again until the World Series and went 7-for-17. People gravitate towards him. It’s one of the reasons the Phillies signed him.

So in the hours following Harper’s injury, players turned to Schwarber. There was no official team meeting. Schwarber and other clubhouse veterans exchanged a few words to make sure everyone was on the same page with the message to roll out to the rest of the room. No one could replace Harper. If anyone tried, they would fail. But there were enough good players to survive his absence.

It was easier said than done. Then, less than 24 hours after Harper broke his thumb, Schwarber saw a 2-1 away change. He didn’t try to do too much. He hit it where it was thrown – and it just so happens he had the strength to knock it over the opposite field wall. The three-run homer gave the Phillies the lead. They won and, more than anything, it was a huge moment for the morale of the club. They could do it without Harper.

3. April 30 at the New York Mets — Leading seventh, runner first, one out: Schwarber home runs (5) on a fly ball to center field. JT Realmuto brand.

WPA: .369

The Phillies reached the all-star break in playoff position, tied with St. Louis for the last wild card. They are 8 1/2 games behind the Mets for the National League East lead, which is a big hill to climb. The first half was full of things for these Phillies, but one of the biggest was bad timing. The Phillies played their worst baseball early in the season, when they faced the Mets in what looked like every other series. They went 3-9 against New York. It might not decide the division; the Mets are good against just about anyone. But that didn’t help.

So, until June, Schwarber’s signature moment might have been that swing. The Phillies had been untouched the previous night by five Mets pitchers. They had been held scoreless for 16 consecutive innings until Schwarber golfed an Adam Ottavino fastball to deep center. The Phillies needed it.

But they’ve lost five of their next six — including three more to the Mets. One of them was The James Norwood Game. Maintaining momentum seemed impossible.

4. June 1 vs. San Francisco — End of the sixth, runner on second, one out: Home runs by Schwarber (12) on a fly ball to right center field. Stott scores.

WPA: .293

Schwarber hit .272/.385/.680 in June with 12 home runs, and it was the one that ignited his month. The season was on the brink. It was Girardi’s last game as Phillies manager, although no one knew it at the time.

The Phillies had yet to ask Schwarber to wear them, but it was an important moment. The pressure was on everyone to get the Phillies out of their malaise. Thus, Schwarber did something he had never done in his career. He swung on a 3-0 pitch and homered. It was a two-point shot to cap a Phillies midgame comeback.

Schwarber, prior to this season, had 89 plate appearances that ended 3-0. Of these, 82 were walks. He hadn’t put a 3-0 pitch on the line since 2019.

Maybe the Phillies had sacrificed something by keeping Schwarber at the top of the roster. He entered Sunday’s game against Miami tied for 10th most plate appearances with men on base while batting first. But he was third in RBIs in those situations, behind only Cedric Mullins and Mookie Betts. Schwarber, at least, had taken advantage of it.

The Phillies won on June 1 in Girardi’s last game. One of the critical flaws of Girardi’s teams in Philadelphia—perhaps coincidentally—was a lack of production from the starting point. As Girardi walked out, Schwarber began to cry.

5. May 1 at the New York Mets – First of fourth, runner on first, two out: Schwarber home runs (7) on a fly ball to center field. Realmuto brand.

WPA: .250

Last season, when Schwarber reestablished his spot as one of the game’s top hitters, he crushed the fastballs. Tore them down. Twenty-four of his 32 home runs were hit on fastballs. Go back even further and 60 of Schwarber’s 81 homers from 2019-21 were on fastballs.

But, this season, Schwarber has only hit 15 of 29 homers on fastballs. His 13 homers on brittle balls and off-pitch pitches are more than the previous two seasons combined.

Schwarber is seeing fewer fastballs this season than ever before. This is obvious; teams know the kind of damage he can do even on a well-placed fastball. So on Sunday Night Baseball in May, Max Scherzer pitched Schwarber with a fastball and then threw five consecutive pitches out of speed. With the count 2-2, Scherzer found his place on a down substitution. Schwarber hit it from 404 feet to give the Phillies the lead.

A few weeks later, Schwarber was one of the players who started regular batting practices against a curveball machine. Schwarber has always enjoyed using the machine in the inside cage, but he’s made it a daily punching competition with his teammates on the court. Maybe it helped, maybe it was just a good way to break the monotony of the season.

The Phillies lost Sunday night to Scherzer to fall to 11-12. They would not have a winning record for 41 days. By then, Schwarber was one of the hottest hitters in all of baseball.

(Top photo of Kyle Schwarber’s May 30 home run: Eric Hartline/USA Today)


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