Are you as ready as I am to see a team go 162-0? Because I’m pretty sure that is what has been foretold after what went down yesterday. The Phillies (can we call them “plucky” yet?) showed that the NL East will not be a pushover this season by using gasp pitching and defense to win a game that the analytics would say they shouldn’t have won.
Basing your conclusions off of things like exit velocity and expected batting average is a surefire way of getting frustrated by this beautiful game. If every ball that leaves the bat at 105 miles an hour were to be a hit, this game would be a offensive show at this point in its history. But sometimes, you just hit them at people, like the Braves did yesterday, and sometimes the ball just finds the right spot, as it did for the Phillies.
With the win, there are some obvious conclusions to draw, so here are three of them to make for the impending division champions.
The bullpen is going to be a strength for this team
When Aaron Nola gave up the game tying home run, you could almost feel the collective holding of breath by the fanbase. Having been traumatized by the 2020 version of the bullpen, we had all come to expect the worst of what was about to happen. Instead, even with a few bumps along the way, the pitchers that ran out there yesterday actually looked...competent?
It’s definitely a long season, but the signing of Archie Bradley, the trade for Jose Alvarado and the returns of Conner Brogdon and Hector Neris yielded immediate returns by looking quite good. Sure they were bailed out by superb plays by Gregorius and Roman Quinn, but they go the outs that they needed when they needed them. We’ve always said that the laws of averages almost guaranteed that the bullpen wouldn’t be as bad as it was last year and if this game showed us anything, it’s that they might actually be good.
Hey, the defense is alright as well!
As we talked about yesterday, the defense doesn’t look like a strength for this team. There is really only one player you could comfortably call “above average” in J.T. Realmuto with the rest of the team leaving fans to just hope for average. Yesterday, outside of a strange decision by Rhys Hoskins to flip the ball behind his back to Nola covering, there were some sterling plays in the field. We already know about Realmuto and Quinn hooking up at the plate, but Alec Bohm made a clutch leaping grab that likely saved two runs earlier in the game.
GOD BLESS YOU, ALEC BOHM pic.twitter.com/JPFwYzuUnv— Justin Lever ❤️⚾️ (@JustinLever3) April 1, 2021
The Gregorius play was also nothing to sneeze at.
DIdi Gregorius— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 1, 2021
that was an amazing catch
The context of this catch can’t be forgotten either. Should that ball fall for a hit, that would bring up Freddie Freeman to face Hector Neris with a runner on and the game on the line. Even though Freeman’s career average against Neris is only .083, he would be the last person the Phillies would want to see striding to the plate with the game on the line.
There will be games where the defense is exposed, but yesterday at least, they should they can win a game for this team.
Aaron Nola is still an ace
Everyone makes a mistake. Nola made one mistake yesterday that was crushed for a game tying home run. That is why these hitters are professional hitters.
But for the rest of the game, Nola looked every bit the ace that he is. In a season where pitching is going to be tested for all teams, Nola entered the seventh inning in under 80 pitches. He was excellent when he needed it. There was no doubt he was aided by the playing conditions on the day, but even without them, he was locked in the zone early. His newfound cutter looked promising, his curve and his changeup cause a lot of early swings, but that two-seam fastball was simply filthy.
There will be bumps and Nola still has a major hurdle to scale in his September starts, but should he perform like he did today all year, this team will be in great shape.