December 2, 2023

Phillies take four of five from Nationals: ‘They believe’


Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Don’t look away from your television, or you might miss a win. Once June came around, the Phillies flipped a switch. Now, they are cruising as they are on their way to getting back into the playoff race.

Game summaries

The Phillies began the long five-game set on a high note, as they won 10-1 on Thursday night. Zack Wheeler threw seven strong innings, and the bullpen threw two scoreless innings. But the Phillies’ offense stole the show.

In the top of the third, two errors propelled a seven-run inning from the Phillies. Yairo Munoz reached on an error, and Kyle Schwarber smashed a two-run home run to give the Phils the early lead. J.T. Realmuto beat out a groundball to shortstop to score Bryce Harper, and Didi Gregorius doubled in Nick Castellanos and J.T. Realmuto to make it 6-0.

Alec Bohm hit a groundball to first base, but Patrick Corbin, the Nationals starter, forgot to cover the base. This allowed a seventh run to score in the inning.

One inning later, Kyle Schwarber lifted his eighteenth home run of the season, and Nick Castellanos hit an RBI double to expand the lead. Yairo Munoz recorded his first hit as a Phillie, a home run, in the eighth inning.

To end the work week, the Phillies played twice and won twice, as they headed into the weekend. Nick Castellanos hit a two-run double in the first, and Odubel Herrera and Alec Bohm each drove in a run in the third.

Ranger Suarez got the start for the Phillies, and he battled through 5.2 innings. Lane Thomas hit an RBI double off of him in the third, and it was not until the sixth inning that the Nationals’ offense struck again. With two away in the sixth, Nelson Cruz kept the inning alive with a walk, and Josh Bell followed with a two-run home run to the opposite field.

Connor Brogdon, Seranthony Dominguez, and Brad Hand strung 3.1 innings of scoreless relief pitching together, helping the Phillies close out their 5-3 win. This was Hand’s second save of the season and his first after Corey Knebel’s removal from the closer’s role.

Bailey Falter made his third start of the season in the third game of the series. While it was not perfect, he kept the Phillies in the game through five innings. You don’t hear this too often, but the Phils’ bullpen made the real difference in the game-three win.

Josh Bell hit his third home run of the series in the second inning, but Matt Vierling tied the game back up an inning later.

With the Phillies up by two, Josh Bell struck again—he lifted a game-tying homer into the crowd. Nick Nelson relieved Falter, but a lack of command gifted the Nats a lead going into the seventh.

In the eighth, Rob Thomson sent Harper to the dish to pinch hit for Odubel Herrera, and he delivered! He shot a ball into the gap, scoring two runs to tie the game.

Matt Vierling hit his second home run of the evening, and the Phillies were three outs away from a victory.

Andrew Bellatti got the first two outs in the ninth, but he was relieved by Jose Alvarado. Alvarado got off to a rocky start, but he got Nelson Cruz to roll over to shortstop. With the game on the line, Didi Gregorius threw the ball over Rhys Hoskins, and the Nationals tied it, sending the game into extra innings.

J.T. Realmuto poked a two-run single into centerfield, giving the Phillies enough insurance going into the bottom of the tenth. Ultimately, the Phillies came out on top as they took the 8-7 victory.

A pitcher’s duel, something you wouldn’t expect to see between these two teams, came to fruition on Saturday. Josiah Gray and Aaron Nola started for their respected teams, and both stole the show.

Gray allowed just one hit in six innings of work, but three walks and a high pitch count got him pulled after the sixth inning. Gray struck out four, and he forced nine Phillies to ground out.

The Nationals’ pitchers were perfect outside of the seventh inning, where Erasmo Ramirez left a first-pitch cutter over the heart of the plate to Yairo Munoz. Munoz scorched it into the left-field bleachers, giving the Phillies the lead.

Aaron Nola and his curveball stole the show, yet he got no credit for his excellent performance in the box score. Brad Hand came in for the ninth inning, but a two-strike, two-out single hit by Lane Thomas tied the game.

Nola, on the other hand, threw eight scoreless innings and was able to minimize the length of at-bats. This kept his pitch count low and saved the Phillies’ bullpen.

After the ninth-inning collapse, Brad Hand got the final out, and the game went into extra innings for the second evening in a row. Rhys Hoskins hit for Yairo Munoz and hit an RBI single up the middle. Kyle Schwarber, walked and Didi Gregorius singled, but the Phillies left them loaded after a fielder’s choice and two popouts.

Luckily, the Phillies’ struggles with the bases loaded did not come back to bite them—Seranthony Dominguez shut the Nats down in the bottom half of the tenth. With a little help from left fielder Kyle Schwarber, Dominguez was able to lock up the victory.

Unfortunately, the Phillies did not end the series the way they hoped. Juan Soto hit a three-run home run off of Zach Eflin in the first inning, putting the Phils down by four after the first inning.

Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm helped get the Phillies within two, but a Cesar Hernandez double and a bases-loaded walk made the score 6-2.

Maikel Franco hit a two-run home run in the fifth, and just like that, the Phillies were down by five.

Matt Vierling continued to find success as he went 2-4. Aside from that, the Phillies’ offense was unable to be found, and the Phillies ended up losing 9-3 in the series finale.

Consistency at the dish

Consistency was a noticeable issue surrounding the Phillies’ first-half struggles. Now, the Phillies’ offense has finally found consistency, and this has made a huge difference. The Phillies have not been shut out since May 19, and the entire lineup finds a way to make an impact in each game.

Specifically, it seems like Rhys Hoskins has found a way to stay semi-consistent. In between his power streaks, he has been mixing in singles and the occasional double to help produce runs. This has become valuable, as his spot in the lineup is not a nearly-definite out when he is not in one of his hot streaks. Hoskins is now hitting .252 in 2022 and has an OPS of .806.

An update on Harper

In the last three games, the red-hot Bryce Harper took a seat because of an infected blister. Harper, the 2021 Most Valuable Player, is hitting .324 and has a 1.004 OPS in 230 at-bats. Harper went 3-4 in game one of the doubleheader on Friday. Ron Thomson said that the blister has been there, but that it has “flared up” recently. He is taking antibiotics and is not expected to spend time on the injured list.

Ninth inning woes

Is it a bullpen or a pen of bulls? Great question. An atrocious Phillies bullpen has been a recurring theme over the past decade. The Phillies signed Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, and Corey Knebel in the offseason, hoping to clean up the mess that the 2020 and 2021 Phillies left. We are 68 games in, and Dave Dombrowski’s cleaning service has not worked. Jeurys Familia has been useless in any important situation, Brad Hand cannot pitch with inherited runners, and Corey Knebel was removed from the closer’s role after blowing a save Tuesday night against Miami. He recorded 11 saves in 15 opportunities as the Phillies’ closer.

When asked what Knebel can do to return to the closer’s role, Rob Thomson said that he needs to be “throwing strikes, throwing the ball where he wants to, [and] landing the breaking ball.”

Knebel acknowledged that the “[d]ecison ha[d] been made.” Thomson also described him as a “competitor” who wants to win.

The Phillies, who are now using the committee approach in save situations, still have not found a compatible closer. Brad Hand blew a save on Saturday, and Jeurys Familia has not even handled the seventh inning all that well. Seranthony Dominguez is a good option, but his appointment to closer would result in the Phillies’ losing their eighth-inning man.

There are some big decisions ahead for Phillies skipper Rob Thomson!

Aaron the all-star?

Quietly, Aaron Nola has been one of the better pitchers in the National League so far in 2022. He has posted a 3.11 ERA and a .87 WHIP in 14 starts. The microscopic WHIP is thanks to how efficient Nola has been. He has only walked 11 batters in the 89.2 innings that he has thrown. His 99 strikeouts rank second in the National League.

His nasty curveball and strong statistics make it a serious possibility that we see him in his second all-star game. He was an all-star in 2018, where he finished the season with 17 wins and a 2.37 ERA ERA.

The Phillies will travel South to meet the Rangers for a midweek international series.

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