The mood in the city, and around the team after the Phillies’ 10-0 victory in game 2 of the NLCS was that the series was over. The Phillies were playing amazing baseball, and they seemed unstoppable. Now, just 3 days later everything has turned on its head. The Phillies have blown 2 straight games in Arizona, and now the series is tied. Man, that one really hurts.
Loyal To A Fault
Let me just start by saying that we all love Rob Thomson. The Phillies would not be in back-to-back NLCS’ without Rob Thompson. But we are starting to see a theme in the playoffs that he is too loyal to his players, in spite of what is best for the team. There is a fine line you have to walk between doing what is best for your team and keeping your players happy. Thompson has stayed on the keeping your players happy side of that line the last two playoffs, and it may just cost them yet again.
After Orion Kerkering showed in game 3 that the high-leverage spot may have been too big for him, Thompson still goes to him again tonight. Orion is going to be a great pitcher for the Phillies in the future, but he is 22 years old and has two pitches. The Diamondbacks know that he throws the slider 80% of the time, and they sit on it. It also did not help that tonight he was pulling it right. Kerkering had also not pitched back-to-back days all season through the minors, and the majors. So why is he throwing back-to-back games in the playoffs? In the biggest swing game of the series, you are going to throw him into the fire in a spot he has not been in all year long from a stamina standpoint. It made no sense at the moment, and it backfired.
It’s almost hard to believe at this point that Craig Kimbrel was an NL All-Star with how he has pitched in the second half of the season, and the playoffs. Every time Kimbrel gets in the game he is walking the tightrope of walks, the pitch clock, hits, and home runs. Last night it was the walks and hits that helped him blow the game. Tonight it was the walks and the home runs. While leading 5-3 in the 8th inning Kimbrel allowed a game-tying home run to pinch hitter Alek Thomas. After blowing two games in a row Thompson can not use Kimbrel in a high-leverage spot again this postseason. If it wasn’t for him this series could be over right now, but instead we are tied. Thompson can not trust him anymore.
The offense was not the reason they lost tonight, but Thompson needs to get Alec Bohm out of the 4th spot in the lineup. Bohm provides no protection to Harper right now, and Harper is seeing no good pitches because of it. Even though he had the 2 RBI error, no pitcher is afraid of Bohm right now. By keeping him in the 4 hole you are also neutralizing Bryce Harper. Harper is going to get pitched around regardless, but maybe if someone who was a little more of a threat was behind him, he would actually see a strike. Thompson is actively hurting the team by keeping Bohm in that spot. Last year we saw the Astros pitch around Harper in the World Series because Nick Castellanos was struggling behind him, yet Thompson refused to switch up the lineup. That was not the sole reason we lost the World Series, but it definitely did not help. Now, we are seeing the same thing again with Bohm.
Leaving Runners On
While the offense is not why they lost this game, there has been a troubling theme that we have seen all season and has come up big so far this postseason. The Phillies are bad at hitting with runners in scoring position. The Phillies had a chance after the 2 run error to really break the game open. The team had been pitching well up to that point, and they had men still on base after the error. But, they failed to score and only got 2 runs that inning. You could kind of feel that that would come back to bite them, and it did. There have been multiple times in the last few games where they had “ducks on the pond” but did not bring them home. They have had a few chances to take a real commanding lead where instead, you let the Diamondbacks hang around. The Phillies are the better team, and they need to pound on when they have the chance. Instead, they have failed to add extra runs, and it has cost them in two straight games.
Besides an elimination game, game 5 is as close to a must-win game for both teams. From the Diamondback’s point if they do not take game 5 they have to go back to Philadelphia and sweep. That would be an extremely tall task for the young Snakes team, and one they would not have great odds of pulling off. For the Phillies, it is just about a must-win game because if they lose, they are on the brink of elimination. The Phillies are the more talented, and more experienced team, but that also comes with more pressure. Losing this series, and losing at home would be an absolute disaster for the Phillies, and that could become a reality if they lose again tomorrow. Both teams will have their aces on the hill as Zach Wheeler will face off against Zac Gallen. The Phillies bats got the better of Gallen in game 1, so let’s hope they can jump on him early again. With both teams using a bullpen game today it will be crucial for their starters to go deep in the game. With the off day Sunday, and the massive swing factor of this game, expect both managers to be extra aggressive in this game. The Phillies must be locked in from the start and win this game. If they come back to Philadelphia up 3-2 I believe they have a great shot of advancing, but they need to take care of business tomorrow.