Remember that opening series? Bolstered by free agent acquisitions Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta, the Phillies were considered dark horse wild card contenders. Meanwhile, the Braves’ outlook seemed dimmer. They were thought to have one legitimate threat in their lineup (Freddie Freeman) and a questionable pitching staff. The series would provide the Phillies with a chance to show that their days of losing were firmly in the past.
Things started off well enough. The Phillies jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and with Aaron Nola tearing through the Braves’ lineup, everyone in Philadelphia was feeling really positive about the season.
And then Hoby Milner happened.
Let the second guessing begin. Hoby Milner replaces Aaron Nola and serves up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) March 29, 2018
I’m not sure how the rest of Gabe Kapler’s managing career is going to go. I strongly doubt he’s ever going to win a World Series in Philadelphia, but maybe like another former manager, Terry Francona, he learns from his mistakes, and goes on to win multiple World Series in a different city. If that ever happens, you can rest assured that more than one Phillies fan will watch those games and disgustedly mutter, “That’s the jackass that pulled Nola on Opening Day.”
Did the Braves’ comeback win give them the confidence that they needed to surge to an unexpected division title? Or was their success due more to the emergence of young stars like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr? Did the Opening Day disaster show that the Phillies were mentally weak, and couldn’t handle adversity, essentially foretelling their late-season collapse? Or did they just have an imperfect roster loaded with young, inconsistent players?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The Braves are National League East champs, and the best the Phillies can do is a .500 finish.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Friday: Jerad Eickhoff vs. Mike Foltynewicz
After missing most of the season with a nerve problem (I can relate!) Eickhoff will make his first start of the year. Hopefully, Eick can show that the injury is behind him, and he can live up to the promise he showed back in 2016.
Folty is making a tune-up start before the NLDS where he will likely be the Braves starter in game one. We’ll see if he can live up to the grand tradition of Braves starters having strong regular seasons, and then coming up small in the playoffs.
Saturday: Aaron Nola vs. Anibal Sanchez
I kind of wish that Aaron Nola wasn’t making this start. Sure, he might provide the Phillies their only chance of winning another game in 2018, but after his amazing season, I really don’t want to see him get further sullied by the team’s awfulness.
After three straight seasons of ERAs over 4.99, naturally Sanchez comes to the Braves and has his best season in five years. He’ll probably go back to being bad next year, but that is little consolation at this point in time.
Sunday: Ranger Suarez vs. Kevin Gausman
Suarez will be making his third start of the season for the Phillies, and the first two didn’t go very well. “Ranger Rick” might have a future in a big league rotation, but it’s clear that he still has some work to do.
Gausman hasn’t been especially good this month (4.37 ERA) but the Braves have won three of his four starts because of course they have. He pitched decently against the Phillies last week, but because the Braves were teeing off on the Phillies’ staff, decently was more than good enough.
A Final Farewell to Asdrubal Cabrera
The Phillies’ record on July 27 when they traded for Asdrubal Cabrera was 58-45. Since that day they’ve gone 20-35. The Mets were 43-58 when they unloaded the veteran infielder. They’ve put up a 31-26 record since then. It’s the last series of the year, so I’m not going to mince words: Cabrera is cursed, and he’s solely responsible for the Phillies’ poor showing down the stretch.
If they ever want to regain their winning ways, the Phillies should hold some sort of ceremony where they burn Cabrera’s uniform. (And they can burn Mike Lieberthal’s Wall of Fame plaque while they’re at it.) At first, I was going to suggest that they make sure Cabrera is wearing his jersey while they burn it, but I realized that might seem like I’m suggesting murder.
To be clear: I don’t like Cabrera and hold him responsible for the downfall of the Phillies. But that dislike is not so great that I want to see him dead. Please do not murder Asdrubal Cabrera on my behalf. After all, he might sign with the Braves next year and ruin their season.
Where the Heck is Hoby Milner Anyway?
After he ruined the first week of the Phillies’ season, the team sent Milner to the minors, and we all mercifully forgot about him. The Phillies eventually sold him for cash to the Tampa Bay Rays, who called him up for two appearances in July. One of those appearances went well, and one went very poorly.
I’m only scouting the box score here, so I can’t say for sure if the Rays manager gave him enough time to warm up before calling him into the game. I would assume so, but when it comes to Milner, you can never be sure of anything.
Boo This Man
Boo all of the Braves. Every single one of them. Even Jesse Biddle? Especially Jesse Biddle!
Actually, no. Don’t boo Biddle. He’s a good story.
As for the Phillies, there’s a never-ending debate as to whether or not it’s ever okay to boo the home team. Some people say no, but I say the team has lost eight games in a row, and they are 6-18 in the month of September. I think maybe a little bit of booing may be justified.
The Phillies will avoid the season-ending eleven-game losing streak thanks to a strong start by Aaron Nola. But they will manage to lose the other two to finish 1-10. And then, we will finally be free.