December 10, 2023

The Schwarber show: Phils take two of three from Nats


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If I had to take a guess, I’d say that the Phillies came into this series tired. They just finished a tough series against the Cardinals. But when you take two out of three from your Wild-Card rival, it is a different type of tired.

It is a rewarding type of tired. The type of tired that allows you to fight through a series against a struggling Nationals team.

And they did just that.

Game summaries

The Phillies struck early and often on Tuesday, and it was a very effective strategy. Kyle Schwarber got the offense started in the bottom of the first with a solo home run. Two innings later, he did it again—Schwarber took a four-seam fastball way out of the park, putting the Phils ahead by two.

After that, there was no looking back.

The Phillies got two more thanks to some small ball in the fourth, and J.T. Realmuto homered off Erasmo Ramirez in the fifth.

The Phillies’ offense exploded in the sixth inning as they put a five-spot on the scoreboard. RBI from Alec Bohm, Darick Hall, and Nick Castellanos made it an 11-0 Philly lead.

Nationals’ middle infielder Alcides Escobar pitched the bottom of the eighth inning as the Nationals were down by 11 runs in game one.

The Phillies recalled Cris Sanchez from AAA ahead of game one. Rob Thomson told the press that he wanted five or six innings from Sanchez in the best-case scenario, and Thomson’s hope came to fruition. Sanchez shoved five scoreless innings and allowed just four baserunners.

Jeurys Familia, Andrew Bellatti, and Mark Appel were excellent out of the bullpen, helping to lead the Phils to the game-one win. All three had excellent command of the strike zone, and Familia had one of his best outings of the season. Appel contributed with a multi-inning outing and forced Maikel Franco to fly out to centerfield, ending the game.

Game two was not only atrocious but also disheartening, to say the least. Kyle Schwarber hit two home runs, and Aaron Nola threw 7.2 exceptional innings. Aside from Schwarber and Nola, the Phillies were awful.

Nick Castellanos was the only Phillie to record a hit outside of Schwarber, yet he grounded into a costly double play in the eighth inning. Odubel Herrera misplayed a fly ball to centerfield, allowing two runs to score. It was scored a hit, but it was a ball that could have been caught. While Nola allowed three runs on seven hits, most of the hits were weak dribblers or pop-ups hit off the end of the bat.

Josiah Gray was on the bump for Washington. Gray’s wipeout slider was excellent, and he posted a career-high 11 strikeouts. Ultimately, the Phillies could not come back against the Nats’ bullpen as they fell 3-2.

Bailey Falter had the start in game three for the Phils, and right-hander Joan Adon was on the bump for the Nationals. Both starters struggled early on and racked up a high pitch count. Falter had trouble commanding his fastball, causing the Nationals to take an early lead.

In the bottom of the third, the Phils struck back—Darick Hall doubled with runners on the corners, J.T. Realmuto hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and Didi Gregorius hit a triple off the wall to score the go-ahead run.

The Phils added one more run an inning later when Kyle Schwarber grounded out to score Matt Vierling.

Falter was pulled after allowing eight baserunners through four innings. Nick Nelson earned the win—he threw two scoreless innings to line the back end of the bullpen up to close out the win. Alvarado struck the side out in the seventh, but Brad Hand allowed a run in the eighth. Luckily, Darick Hall hit a solo home run one inning earlier, giving the Phillies an extra insurance run.

Just like usual, Seranthony Dominguez was excellent. He struck Juan Soto out looking and delivered a fastball with movement to Josh Bell with two outs in the ninth, and Bell popped out to Kyle Schwarber in left field, ending the game.

The 5-3 victory in game three, the rubber match, gave the Phillies a 6-2 record against the Nationals in 2022.

Exceeding expectations

Justifiably so, Phillies fans were not happy following the game-two loss. Aaron Nola had one of his most efficient starts of the season, but the Phils’ offense was dead outside of Kyle Schwarber. Odubel Herrera misread a flyball and got all twisted around in centerfield. The ball landed three feet to his right as he awkwardly reached over his head before tumbling towards the fence. Although the ball was hit hard off the bat and was certainly a tough play, it was definitely one that a starting centerfielder in the most prestigious league in the world should make.

While I fully understand how the play above paired with sixteen strikeouts can be anger-inducing circumstances for a diehard fan, this series could have gone much worse. Sweeps are nice, but the Phillies got two wins from Cris Sanchez and Bailey Falter, both of whom were making spot starts from triple-A. Neither of them had much success during their big-league careers, so winning both of the games that they started has been underappreciated by the fanbase.

The bullpen: From worst to best?

Bringing up the Phillies’ bullpen from the 2020 and 2021 seasons could produce traumatizing memories, so we are going to stay away from that topic.

While we try to forget the 2020 bullpen, we should not forget the 2022 bullpen, which has been one of the best in baseball since the beginning of June. It took nearly five years, but the Phillies finally have a bullpen with set roles for each of their relievers.

The Phillies have not had a bullpen with permanent roles since the 2017 season, where the Phillies had Edubray Ramos pitching in the seventh inning, Hector Neris in the eighth, and Jeanmar Gomez in the ninth.

Now, the Phillies have finally found a bullpen with consistency. Seranthony Dominguez and Brad Hand have been handling the eighth and ninth inning based on matchups, Andrew Bellatti and Corey Knebel have been throwing in the sixth and seventh innings, and Nick Nelson has been solid as the long reliever. Mark Appel and Jose Alvarado were recently recalled from triple-A and have been two of the best pitchers on the Phillies. Appel has not yet allowed a run through four innings, and Jose Alvarado has not allowed a run in his last 11 outings.

And everyone has stepped up in different ways.

After being removed from the closer’s role, Corey Knebel completely revamped his curveball, giving it more break and producing more swings and misses. He has located his fastball much better, and it is showing when you glance over the box scores.

Nick Nelson has found better command of his slider and is seeing more swings and misses and weak rollers to the infield.

And honestly, it is a great feeling.

Now, the Phillies are on the way to the Gateway Arch, and they will take on the Saint Louis Cardinals in a four-game series.

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