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High leverage? Never heard of it: Phillies vs. Reds series preview

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For this series, the Phillies should try the novel concept of using their better relievers in key spots

MLB: AUG 12 Dodgers at Phillies
Enyel de los Santos and inherited runners have been a bad match
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a series against the Dodgers in which we may - or may not - have learned something about just how good they are, the Phillies will welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Citizens Bank Park. With the Reds’ powerful offense in town, we may get an idea as to just how well the Phillies’ pitching staff will be able to hold up down the stretch. One way to help them would be for the manager to recognize which pitchers can handle tough situations, and which ones can not.

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 62-54 (Second place in National League Central)

The last time they met

When the Phillies visited Cincinnati in May, the teams traded blowout wins before the third game was postponed. That game was eventually made up, and the Phillies were doing rather well in it until they decided to put reliever Neftali Feliz into the game.

You may recall Feliz as the guy who hadn’t appeared in a major league game since 2017 before signing with the Phillies. Apparently there was a reason for his exile, because he allowed three runs in 0.2 innings that game, and had one more awful appearance before being released.

It should be noted that the Feliz experience did not scare the Phillies away from using pitchers who haven’t been in the majors in a few years. They recently called up David Paulino, who last threw a major league pitch in 2018. I can’t wait to see what he can do!

Catching up with the Reds

The Reds recently had a hot stretch where they went 10-2, only to follow it with a three-game losing streak. They’ll need a few more hot streaks if they want to make the postseason, because although they’re in second place in the Central, they’re eight games behind the first place Brewers.

The Reds might be angry that they have a better record than the first place in the East Phillies, but they should remember that their deficit in the Central would be even greater if the Phillies hadn’t swept the Brewers in a four-game series earlier this season.

Least valuable player

Eugenio Suarez earned MVP votes in two different seasons, but I don’t expect him to be on many ballots this season. He’s batting just .174, and according to some metrics, his defense at third base has been even worse than Alec Bohm this season. (Re-read that last sentence just to let it sink in.)

The Reds can hit. Can the Phillies pitch?

The Reds have been carried by their offense, which ranks second in the National League in runs scored. They’ve been led by Nick “ruiner of profound moments” Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and of course, longtime pain in the butt Joey Votto.

In two of the games, the Phillies will have Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola starting, and say what you will about Nola’s uneven season, he’s capable of pitching the team to victory on any given night. The third game will likely be started by Matt Moore, and the Phillies will likely have to rely on the offense if they want to win that one.

Of course, there’s also the matter of the bullpen. Thanks to Ian Kennedy, Archie Bradley, and Hector Neris, the late innings haven’t been so much of a problem. And with Jose Alvarado and Connor Brogdon, you’ve got a couple of mid-inning options who have had stretches of effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the bullpen also consists of guys like Enyel de los Santos, Mauricio Llovera, and the aforementioned David Paulino. These guys shouldn’t be used if the game is anywhere within five runs - and even that is iffy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Joe Girardi agrees. EDLS has inherited the “guy we use in a high-leverage middle inning spot even though he keeps proving he can’t do it” job from David Hale.

If you have to use Neris in the fifth to avoid the game getting out of hand, then use Neris in the fifth! If you’re forced to go to EDLS later, do it at the start of an inning when the opponent has the bottom of their order due up.

What about the Reds pitching?

The Phillies spent most of the series against the Dodgers not hitting the ball well. That sometimes happens when you face a top pitching staff without Rhys Hoskins or J.T. Realmuto, and Andrew McCutchen is rusty. In this series, the Phillies will be facing three starters of some degree of cromulence (Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, and the perpetual trade rumor that is Sonny Gray) and a sub-par bullpen (Heath Hembree is one of their key relievers), so with or without those guys, the Phillies need to score some runs.

One crazy suggestion to boost the offense would be to use the young centerfielder who was tearing things up in the minor leagues. Travis Jankowski was a fun story for a while, but regression has chased him down, so why not give the prospect a chance?

Trivia

Last series’ answer: The Dodgers beat the Phillies five times in 2008, but all of those wins came at Dodger Stadium. Between the regular season and NLCS, the Phillies went 7-0 against the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. SteveH2331 was the first to answer correctly.

This series’ question: In the 2010 NLDS between the Reds and the Phillies, the Phillies hit only one home run. Who hit it?

What to expect

  • Aaron Nola builds upon his rain-shortened start against the Dodgers and pitches the Phillies to victory.
  • Didi Gregorius’ hot-hitting month of August will continue.
  • Votto will hurt the Phillies with a big hit or two (and water will remain wet).

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

It sounds like there are some intriguing concepts planned for Marvel’s What If...? series, but the first episode fell flat for me. The animation was great, but the story they chose was rather blah.