There has not been much to celebrate about the Phillies in the last ten games against the National League’s most bloodthirsty teams. But, having made one of their two wins the final game of the stretch, and a walk-off win at that, we can establish narratives about “momentum” and “vibes” and such! Plus, there’s an off-day today, so we can say things like “The win was huge because it gave the Phillies a win going into the off-day,” or something. The point is, we’re saying without really saying that Sunday’s heroics basically erase everything that happened prior, and we can assume the MLB league offices can agree with that summation, whether they “get back to us” or not.
So let’s dive in to what subplots we can laud as we twiddle our thumbs this Monday.
Yayyy, Aaron Altherr!
Altherr’s game-tying three-run blast in the eighth salvaged Sunday, the weekend, and the series with the Nationals all in one fatal blow. This has been covered ad nauseum to this point (That’s a Latin term indicating how much you want to throw up because of how good Aaron Altherr is), so let’s just focus our efforts on getting Altherr to the All-Star Game, an endeavor made all the more difficult by the fact that MLB has not put him on the ballot.
Hector Neris pitched two scoreless frames
The cynic in you may want to conclude that, even should the Phillies figure out their closer situation (“figure out” meaning “keep putting the same guys out there until one of them doesn’t allow a disaster to unfold because what else are they going to do”), some other dumb problem will arise and nullify the success at the back-end of the bullpen. But after a 2-8 road trip, maybe we focus a little harder on each individual success instead of the sweeping, less attainable ones.
And Neris, long-considered the best option to close, has not been the definitive answer that the Phillies hoped. The team’s go-to shutdown pitcher has transitioned from Jeanmar Gomez to Pete Mackanin pointing at the bullpen and just seeing who comes out. But giving Neris chances is good, because as we discussed on The Felske Files, there aren’t a lot of ways to fix the bullpen right now other than to simply push forward. Neris is a good pitcher, and with enough chances, he will find a good stretch. As far as the options go, he is still the best one, and every success he finds helps the team as a whole. Yesterday, with the game teetering in a tie, he came in not to protect a lead, but shield the Phillies from a loss, and did so against the NL’s most vicious lineup - for two innings. Actually, he composed two of the Phillies’ three 1-2-3- innings on the day, right when they needed them most. So let’s call it a win. Because it, you know... was one.
“Extra innings” did not mean an “extra game”
Anyone who stayed up until sunrise watching the Cubs and Yankees play 18 innings last night is regretting it now. “No I’m not!” they insist, pounding a fistful of caffeine pills while their co-workers wonder why they’re replying out loud to a typed accusation on a computer screen. In any case, given the lack of clutchness in the Phillies offense and the abundance of devastation in the Nationals’ lineup, yesterday’s game would probably never have lasted as long as two entire baseball games. Could we have seen Andres Blanco pitch if it had? We’ll never know. And we’ll never have to know, because while double-baseball is fun for a while, it can quickly become a cruel hell. I can very easily seeing the Phillies and Nationals extending a game well into the evening, only for the Nats to put up nine runs in the top of the 16th and make the whole thing into a tragedy. The Phillies managed to drag Washington into extras yesterday, but they did so succinctly and sanely, needing only to load the bases with less than two outs twice to get the win.
The Nationals’ closer situation is still a mess
I guess some teams just don’t have a closer who can pitch two scoreless frames when they need it most. Matt Albers blew the game once, and then Blake Treinen blew it again on Freddy Galvis’ sac fly. Hell, the inning before, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out, and they’re the Phillies. The Nationals may be the best, but the team they eventually lose to in the NLDS this year is probably going to be better than the Phillies. They may want to be able to hold a lead against a third or fourth place team before they start thinking about their forthcoming playoff losses this fall.
Besides, the Nationals think they can just homer their way out of having to hire an effective closer. And that’s only been proven effective 85-90% of the time, so I bet they feel pretty foolish. Their plan to have no effective late inning hurlers, and instead rely on Jayson Werth’s ability to negotiate a win with the umpires after the game has already ended, proved foolish on Sunday. Looks like they will have revamped that strategy by the time the Phillies meet them again... uh, next week. Great.
Vince Velasquez laid down a bunt
Bunting is hard, and often, bad. It’s tough for even a skilled bunter to lay down a successful dribbler when the team needs it. But as Velasquez stepped in to hit for Cameron Rupp - oof - it was clear what he was up there to do. And the fun part was, he actually did it, getting a stellar bunt down that not only moved the runners up, but allowed him to reach base as well.
It is believed to have been Velasquez who Werth was complaining about to umpires following the game - something about how the pitcher hadn’t tagged up or left the base or something, but happily, the umpires were too eager to get off the field to care. It would have been narratively correct to have the Phillies douse Galvis with the cooler and then have to return to the field because a pitcher being used as a pinch hitter didn’t know how to run the bases correctly - boy that hits a lot of sad beats - but hey, the point is, Vinny bunted, didn’t hurt himself, and got the job done.
And so, we have twenty four hours to consider the Phillies, where they go from here, and how to survive the next ten-game stretch. Phase one should be figuring out how to get through the emotional thunder storm of Chooch’s return on Tuesday.