December 2, 2023

Phillies’ Inconsistencies Exacerbated in Tough Series Against Nationals


Philadelphia Phillies' Bryson Stott, right, takes a pitch from Washington Nationals starter Trevor Williams, back left, during the second inning of the Little League Classic baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Bowman Stadium in Williamsport, Pa., Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023. Stott and many other Phillies players sported custom bats for the Little League Classic Game that had many of the LLWS teams in attendance (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo).

The Phillies were nine outs away from being swept by the last-place Nationals, but their $250 million offense came through, scoring 12 runs in the final 2.1 innings of Saturday’s game. They forced Nationals’ third baseman Ildemaro Vargas to the mound to pitch the ninth inning. Trea Turner did something that no Phillie had done since 1985.

In those three sentences, the Phillies don’t sound like a team that would lose a series to a club like the Nationals, nor do they sound like a team that would be blanked by a pitcher with an ERA well over 5.

With a star-studded lineup from top to bottom, consistency should not be a worry. When one guy struggles, the other eight should still put up a crooked number.

Sadly, the latter has not been the case.

In the top of the fourth on Friday, the Phillies’ offense exploded. First, it was J.T. Realmuto and Jake Cave, who hit back-to-back RBI doubles. Johan Rojas followed with an RBI single, and Kyle Schwarber topped it off with a two-run home run to give the Phillies a five-run lead.

Bulletproof lead, right?

Not exactly. The Nationals put up a six spot in the bottom half of the fourth after rookie Johan Rojas made a costly error at the beginning of the inning.

“It all started with something you probably won’t see again,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Rojas dropped a fly ball. He broke in, covered well, and he was underneath it. It just popped out of his glove.”

22-year-old shortstop C.J. Abrams headlined the Nationals’ big inning with a three-run home run that gave the Natis a one-run lead. Phillies fans stared at the long ball in awe; it was not the first time this season that Phillies fans watched a lead diminish. In fact, it’s the second time this month the Phillies have blown a five-run lead and eventually lost.

“Gotta keep working in the cage and go out there and compete—that’s the biggest thing,” Kyle Schwarber, who hit two home runs in the Phillies’ loss, told the media. “Hopefully, tomorrow we can turn the page and come in ready to get another win.”

Coming into game one, the Nationals knew they had to produce against Phillies’ starter Michael Lorenzen after being no-hit when the two teams last faced each other, and they clearly delivered. Lorenzen was pulled from the game after allowing six earned runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings of work, and his season ERA ballooned to 3.57. Needless to say, it was a more-than-disappointing start after a historic no-hitter against the Nationals last Wednesday.

“I wasn’t in sync at all, just having to think about the pitches that I’m trying to make way too much,” Lorenzen said. “I didn’t think I had a good anything today.”

On Saturday, the Phillies snatched a win, but it did not come without some classic Philly drama. With the Nationals leading by three in the seventh inning, Nick Castellanos blasted an opposite-field, three-run home run to tie the game. Castellanos’ big swing was the first sign of life shown by the Phils’ offense on Saturday afternoon, and it certainly woke up his teammates.

After a scoreless bottom of the seventh tossed by Seranthony Dominguez, the Phils posted an eight-run eighth inning that featured RBI from Trea Turner, Bryson Stott, Kyle Schwarber, Alec Bohm, and Nick Castellanos. The Phillies sent 11 guys to the plate, and Trea Turner became just the third player in Phillies’ history to hit two home runs in the same inning. Turner’s first homer was the go-ahead run, and his second of the inning was a line drive over the left field wall that insured the Phillies’ insurance runs.

With the way starter Christopher Sanchez pitched, scoring 12 runs was unnecessary, but it was definitely a good problem to have. Behind Sanchez and Dominguez, Andrew Bellatti and Luis Ortiz each threw a scoreless inning to close out the victory.

“Mentally, I’ve been better off, and physically, I am doing some things better,” Turner said. “The last two weeks, I’ve just felt a little more normal.”

By no means has this been a “normal” season (or even a normal series) for Turner or the team, but finding his groove will be paramount for Turner and the hopefully-playoff-bound Phillies as the regular season winds down. Over his last 15 games, Turner has a 1.075 OPS, including four home runs and 12 RBI.

Ahead of game three versus the Nats, Rob Thomson—who acknowledged that Turner is finally settling it—made a decision that very few people saw coming: In lieu of the struggling Alec Bohm, he reverted back to old ways and moved Turner back to the two-hole in the lineup.

Unfortunately, no lineup change would have made a difference against Nats’ game-three starter Trevor Williams, who threw six scoreless innings and allowed just two hits on Sunday. Conversely, the Nationals’ offense was all over Zack Wheeler in the first inning, who saw his struggles against the Nationals continue in Williamsport.

The Nats’ lineup started the bottom of the first with five consecutive hits, including a two-run double Keibert Ruiz hit over the head of Nick Castellanos. With four runs having crossed the plate and no outs having been recorded, fans around the Delaware Valley questioned whether Wheeler could escape the inning. Weirdly enough, not only did Wheeler escape the first, but he went on to throw six scoreless innings after a disastrous first frame.

The Phillies’ offense did not get going until the ninth when Brandon Marsh’s RBI single put the Phillies on the board. Less than two minutes later, Jake Cave blasted a two-run home run off Nats’ Kyle Finnegan, pulling the Phillies within one.

Throughout the season, the Phillies have been keeping games close and mustering gritty, comeback wins—a risky yet seemingly effective strategy. Evidently, however, the theme of falling behind early and striking back late in the game won’t always prove effective. J.T. Realmuto, who pinch-hit for Garrett Stubbs, swung through Kyle Finnegan’s two-strike splitter.

Phillies fans around the stadium groaned with a disappointed, yet also shocked, look on their faces. And it was not solely because they lost a series to the Nationals. It was because the Phillies were a day late and a dollar short, something that Phils’ fans have only experienced few and far between this season.

There was no Christian Pache to play miracle worker, and there was no game-changing home run hit by Nick Castellanos. There was no lights-out pitching performance or lucky, late-game rally to overshadow an otherwise underwhelming performance by the offense. Instead, they just, simply, came up short.

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