The Phillies, owners of the best record in baseball, are good. Can they be great?

PHILADELPHIA — There is a fog machine that rests in a vacant locker adjacent to Zack Wheeler’s, and for the past few years, the ace has controlled the postgame mist. It’s a silly thing that Wheeler embraced. But, sometime before this season, the thing broke. The Phillies had to celebrate in April without it. They managed.

But it didn’t feel right. So, Aaron Nola bought a new machine. He stocked Wheeler with large jugs of fog juice. And Wheeler, a stone-faced pitcher who would never want anyone to know he is having fun, has wielded a heavy hand. There was so much fog Sunday night following a Phillies win that it seeped into the service corridor outside the home clubhouse.

These Phillies are on a heater. They have won 25 of their first 36 games. They have the best record in baseball.

“We all feel like we play really well together,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said after a commanding 6-1 win Monday over the San Francisco Giants. “We have a lot of fun.”

The Phillies have existed for 142 seasons. They have authored a better start only two times before. There is supposed to be pain and suffering. Anguish, even. That is how Phillies seasons begin. It is in this franchise’s fibers. So, all of this is unsettling.

It is antithetical to how this team started each of the past two years. In 2022 and 2023, the Phillies used that adversity to fuel them in the summer. They carried it into October. They took pride in making it harder than it needed to be and still succeeding.

Now, what?

“Well, I think it gives them a lot of confidence,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Now, it’s not how you start. It’s how you finish. We have to make sure we keep people healthy. We can’t push it so hard that we’re putting people in jeopardy. So we have to be smart about that.

“Just the awareness of the last couple of years, not really getting hot until June, that sort of motivates people. And I think our guys have done a really good job.”

Finally, they can say it out loud.

“It’s not fun,” Wheeler said, “clawing back.”

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Zack Wheeler allowed no earned runs over seven innings as the Phillies swept away the Giants. Then he manned the fog machine. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

No one in baseball has played a softer schedule than the Phillies. They have played six games against teams with a current .500 record or better. That is the fewest in baseball. Maybe it’s a little misleading; the Phillies have played 10 games against decent teams in Cincinnati and San Diego that are underachieving. They dispatched the Giants, who expect to contend, in a four-game sweep. Team officials knew, entering the season, that the schedule was favorable.

They had to take advantage.

It’s one thing to beat lesser teams at a decent clip. It is another to rip through them. The Phillies are doing that. They are playing at a 112-win pace. They won’t win 112 games. But they have banked a meaningful number of wins that will provide armor whenever the challenges are tougher.

“A lot of people had an opportunity to say stuff about how we start seasons and things like that,” Bryce Harper said. “Obviously, the games in April mean a lot. But we have to stay consistent with the way we play — not just April, May or August, or September. We have to ride that wave and understand we’re going to go through ebbs and flows in the season. Just stay the course and play good baseball. I think we’re doing that right now.”

Harper, who has slugged two three-run homers in two days, looks like someone hitting a stride. He has not been his best yet, and the Phillies have won 69 percent of their games. They have pitched better than any team in the National League. They have hit enough. They do not have one formula that is reliant on the stars.

“I feel like we’re winning in different ways every single night,” Realmuto said. “It’s a different player coming up huge — whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher. It’s never the same guy, which is nice. There’s not too much pressure on one player.”

The first week of May is typically when everyone at Citizens Bank Park adopts nervous looks, wondering if this is a team fit for the 162-game grind. The debate is different this time. It is reasonable — safe, even — to admit these Phillies are a good team. Are they great? It’s not a descriptor anyone has used for a Phillies regular season since 2011.

“We feel like we’re really comfortable with each other,” Realmuto said. “We just started off hot and, hopefully, we ride this wave the entire season.”

Then, a reporter asked on May 6 if the Phillies were peaking too soon.

“No,” Realmuto said. He laughed. “This team is built for the long haul.”

They are, but Thomson knows the tenor has to be focused. His previous two teams were defined by their early-season struggles. Thomson was wise to make sure those teams did not let it overcome them. He does not think he’ll find this team becomes complacent with success.

“I don’t think so,” Thomson said. “Not with these guys. These guys are highly motivated. I just remind them to stay humble and just play the game. That’s it. Just do your thing. Don’t try to do too much. Just do your thing.”

The Phillies can dismantle an opponent in various ways. The game was scoreless in the fourth inning Monday. There were two outs when Nick Castellanos whiffed at the first pitch he saw from a Giants pitcher making his big-league debut. Castellanos, one of the worst hitters in baseball over the first six weeks, took the next four balls. He walked. Bryson Stott, playing shortstop for the first time since the 2022 World Series, walked. Whit Merrifield smacked a single to left to score Castellanos.

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Nick Castellanos scores a run on Whit Merrifield’s fourth-inning single. (Eric Hartline / USA Today)

The Phillies are 17-3 in their past 20 games — their best 20-game stretch since 2010. Their next 12 games are against teams that currently do not have winning records. The Phillies have a chance to stockpile more wins.

“They’re one of the elite teams in the National League,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said.

Melvin would know. He might have had flashbacks Monday afternoon when Harper swatted a homer to left field. It landed in almost the exact spot as The Swing of His Life against Melvin’s Padres in the 2022 National League Championship Series. That was when the Phillies proved how much is possible in this building.

There is more work to do after a spectacular 36-game start. Everyone inside a fog-filled clubhouse knows it.

“We’ve been able to do that,” said Wheeler, who struck out 11 and lowered his ERA to 1.64 on Monday. “But it doesn’t stop there. You have to keep going.”

(Top photo of Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto celebrating Harper’s home run: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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