December 10, 2023

Phillies swept out of Atlanta amid injury and offensive struggles


NBC Sports Philadelphia

Even with an abundance of opportunities to take control, the Phillies couldn’t stop the Braves’ offense, as the Phillies lost three close contests in their final series of the season at Truist Park. The Phillies scored an underwhelming seven runs in the entirety of the three-game set, and the Braves’ starting rotation allowed just four runs over their 16.2 innings.

“Does losing stink? Especially at this point of the year? Sure. But there’s still games to be played. I think that’s the biggest thing; that will be the overall picture. I know that’s the way we’re looking at things right now. I’m sure that people, maybe outside, might have to creep in. But the guys in the room, we’re looking forward to getting out there Tuesday [to play our next game], Kyle Schwarber told the media after the Phillies’ loss in game three.

While the Phillies’ unofficial team leader has a point, there is a legitimate reason to be doubtful. The Phillies are infamous for collapsing during the final stretch of the regular season, and it wouldn’t be the first time the Phillies blow a lead in the standings, whether it’s in the division or the Wild Card.

And the upcoming schedule will be a huge challenge for the Phils, who have come out victorious in just one of their last eight games against teams above .500.

“You keep the doubt out by understanding that you haven’t given anything up yet,” Kyle Gibson told Matt Gelb of The Athletic. “…We’re still in a confident position.”

Game summaries

Everything was lined up perfectly for a big Phillies win in game one; Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, and David Robertson were all available to come out of the ‘pen, but Dominguez was unable to come through.

Dominguez came into the eighth inning with the Phillies on top thanks to solo home runs from Kyle Schwarber and Jean Segura, but Ronald Acuna, Jr. found an elevated pitch and did not miss it. He pulled a two-run, go-ahead home run into the left-field stands, and it continued to get worse from there. The Braves sent ten men to the plate and the Phillies needed to throw 43 pitches to escape the disastrous six-run eighth inning.

While this game ended in what could be the poorest way possible, Ranger Suarez threw six solid innings, making his outing in game one the best he’s thrown in nearly a month.

In the ninth, Braves’ newly-acquired reliever Raisel Iglesias closed out his squad’s victory, which turned out to be a gutting loss for the Phillies, especially after having a lead going into the eighth inning.

Atlanta got out to an early lead off Aaron Nola and the Phillies, but Nola settled down and kept the Phillies in the game through his seven innings of work in game two.

Matt Vierling’s sacrifice fly in the fifth and RBI double in the eighth put the Phillies within two, and Bryson Stott hit an RBI single off Raisel Iglesias in the eighth, putting the Phillies within one.

The top four of the Phillies’ lineup was quiet, going just 3 for 17. Braves’ star leadoff hitter, Ronald Acuna, Jr., though, was not quiet—Acuna went two for four, had all four of the Braves’ RBI, and made a diving play to rob Bryce Harper of a game-tying single.

A scuffling Kenley Jansen got the ball for the Braves in the ninth, but he shut down the Phillies in the ninth, securing the Braves’ 4-3 win in game two.

With Rhys Hoskins back in the lineup and the Phillies’ pitcher who has been the most consistent in the past six weeks on the bump, the Phillies still couldn’t manage to pull off a sweep-avoiding victory on Sunday.

Bailey Falter didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled through 4.2 innings and was eventually relieved by Andrew Bellatti to get the final out in the fourth. Bellatti’s inning-ending strikeout closed Falter’s line, which included just one run. He was outdueled by Braves’ starter Spencer Strider, though, who allowed just one hit—a solo home run hit by Alec Bohm—through six innings.

J.T. Realmuto took Jesse Chavez deep with two outs in the ninth inning, but the bottom of the Phillies’ lineup couldn’t keep the rally going. Chavez struck out Matt Vierling to end the game and complete the sweep of Philadelphia.

At what point do Harper’s struggles become worrisome?

Bryce Harper posted a 1.044 OPS in his MVP season in 2021. He had power to all fields, came up clutch in potentially game-changing situations, and had a monstrous second half to keep the Phillies in the playoff hunt.

And even before being shelved with a break in his hand, he was making a case to win his second MVP award in a row.

But since his return from the injured list, he just hasn’t been the same.

Harper has a weak .157/.271/.333 slash line since the beginning of September, and he hasn’t found many ways to be productive, especially being the designated hitter.

He hasn’t said much about his recent performances, but his frustration is visible. Whether you’re watching from the press box, stands, or your living room couch, you cannot miss the glower on his face after an inning-ending strikeout, which have come more often than you might hope.

Rob Thomson even gave Harper a day off in the final game against the Marlins on September ninth, but he has just six hits in 30 at-bats since.

Ultimately, It’s not up for me to decide, but there has to be a point where you must worry about Bryce Harper returning not to MVP-form before the playoffs arrive. We know he isn’t fully healthy, but a three-hole hitter shouldn’t have twice as many strikeouts as hits, which Harper has over the past two weeks. Many of his swings look unbalanced and uncoordinated, and his timing makes him look like an amateur, something a two-time MVP should never look like. And it’s not like he is just missing the pitches he swings through; he is completely misreading every pitch he swings at, something we’ve never seen since Harper’s been in Philadelphia.

Harper described his struggles in the simplest way possible following a hitless performance in the Phillies’ game-three loss: “I keep missing pitches.”

So for me, that time is now. I am more than confident Harper will get back to performing at the highest level, but I’m afraid it just won’t be soon enough.

Phillies move Syndergaard to ‘pen, plus other injury updates

The hot hand beat the strong resume, and many Phillies fans were glad to hear Rob Thomson announce that Bailey Falter will stay in the rotation, even when Zack Wheeler returns.

Falter has posted a 2.45 ERA in his last seven starts, making him the Phillies’ most consistent pitcher over the past six weeks; so he’s clearly earned the job, especially with Noah Syndergaard struggling against teams south of .500.

The highly-anticipated return of Zack Wheeler is also expected in the coming days, as he has been sidelined for nearly a month with forearm tendonitis. Wheeler will start Wednesday in the finale of a quick two-game series against the Blue Jays, a team that roughed him up in his last start before the all-star break. Noah Syndergaard, though, will still have a very important role despite losing his spot in the rotation. He’ll piggyback Wheeler as he gets back into the swing of starting every five days.

Nick Castellanos took some dry swings over the weekend to begin the process of getting back into baseball action, but there is still no timetable for his return. He was dealing with turf toe while the Phillies were out West, but an unrelated oblique injury is what put him on the injured list at the beginning of September.

The Phillies will look to rebound as they welcome the Blue Jays to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday.

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