The Philadelphia Phillies let us down on Sunday afternoon in a 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. But it was hard to be too angry at the Phillies today, because home plate umpire Sean Barber decided to make himself the target of everyone’s ire.
When the primary story after a baseball game is the umpiring, something is wrong. While I’m still on the fence about replacing home plate umpires with robo umps, this game was a strong argument in favor of the robots. But more on that in a moment. First, let’s take a look at all the other ways this game was unpleasant.
A loss in more ways than one
The Phillies lost the series to the Reds. They haven’t lost two series in a row since mid-June, when they lost three straight to the Dodgers, the Giants, and then the Nationals.
With today’s loss Phillies are no longer in first place in the National League East. The Braves completed a sweep of the Nationals this afternoon, propelling them past the Phillies into first. The Phillies’ week-long stint atop the division is over. The Phillies are only one game back of the Braves, so all hope is not lost yet. But they will need to play much better going forward than they did this week.
Aaron Nola continues to disappoint
Aaron Nola was mediocre. He wasn’t truly awful, as he has been on some occasions this year, but once again he just couldn’t finish off batters with two strikes. He gave up a home run and three walks in just 4.1 IP, and he ran up his pitch count way too high, way too early.
Perhaps the most disappointing part was how little faith Joe Girardi had in Aaron Nola. When Girardi took Nola out of the game, Nola was at only 88 pitches through 4.1 innings. He had just walked the bases loaded, but he was also about to face the lower half of the Reds lineup, which is much less imposing than the top half. There have only been three occasions this year in which Nola has been removed with fewer than 90 pitches thrown and fewer than 5 innings pitched. Once was because of the rainout in LA. The other two times were because he was pitching like garbage. This situation represented something brand new for Nola this season. His manager just decided that he would rather get 4.2 innings out of his bullpen than risk Aaron Nola causing any further damage.
Nola’s next start will be against the Padres, so perhaps facing his older brother Austin will help reinvigorate him. We can only hope.
The offense needs to be better
The offense was uninspiring. The Phillies were down 1-0 after the first batter of the day, and they remained in the hole the entire game. They’ve only averaged 3 runs per game over their last ten days, so the 4 runs they scored today were technically an improvement. That being said, scoring 4 runs in a game isn’t going to cut it moving forward. It certainly didn’t help that the top five batters in the lineup went 2-for-18.
Perhaps the most enjoyable offensive moment of the day was J.T. Realmuto’s triple, but even that was soured with this take from Ruben Amaro Jr. This would be a reasonable comment for a coach to tell his player after the game, but what is the point of a broadcaster saying this? Triples are fun! A catcher legging out a triple is really fun! Just let the game be fun!
Even the bright spots were kind of unpleasant
The three main bright spots in this game for the Phillies were Odúbel Herrera, Bailey Falter, and Enyel De Los Santos. Herrera went 3-for-4, Falter pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, and De Los Santos pitched a scoreless ninth with three strikeouts.
I’m happy for De Los Santos, and it’s good to see him succeeding as of late, but it still just bums me out to have to write that Enyel De Los Santos was a bright spot for the Phillies. When a mediocre long reliever with a 5.57 ERA is one of the bright spots, your team ain’t doing so hot.
As for Falter, it was great to see him pitching so well in his first appearance back from the injured list, but it’s impossible to ignore the reason why he was on the injured list for so long. His refusal to get vaccinated may very well be a “personal choice,” but it’s also a choice that affects everyone around him and that had a detrimental effect on the Phillies season. (If you have a subscription to the Athletic, I highly recommend reading Matt Gelb’s article about Falter and his COVID-19 diagnosis.)
As for Odúbel Herrera, I’ve already made my opinions about him clear on this website. I don’t like writing about him, and I don’t particularly enjoy watching his success. When he’s the only bright spot in the Phillies lineup, I don’t really see a bright spot in the lineup.
And about that umpiring
And finally, the home plate umpiring was atrocious. I honestly couldn’t tell you if it harmed the Phillies or the Reds more (we’ll have to see what Umpire Scorecards says tomorrow), but it was still infuriating no matter what. Home plate umpire Sean Barber simply couldn’t decide what the strike zone was. He was calling balls strikes, strikes balls, and most egregiously, he wasn’t consistent with his calls at all.
because of the ump's awful call on the first pitch, Cutch had no choice but to offer at the second pitch. pic.twitter.com/UWPGljZZs9— Absolutely Hammered (@AH_Pod) August 15, 2021
This pitch was called strike three. pic.twitter.com/DGQkVhlMJN— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) August 15, 2021
Umpires can put the strike zone wherever they want, but it's supposed to stay in that place and not move. This strike zone has legs and a scooter and is zipping all over the place.— Liz Roscher (@lizroscher) August 15, 2021
How is consistency too much to ask for from an MLB umpire? This is literally your job. https://t.co/ROoQtr78w3
The bad umpiring started at the very beginning of the game, when Nick Castellanos was ejected in the top of the first inning for arguing balls and strikes. Reds manager David Bell came out to argue Castellanos’ ejection, and soon after Bell was ejected too. At the time, this seemed like a lucky break for the Phillies, but unfortunately Castellanos’ replacement Shogu Akiyama went 2-for-4 with 23 RBIs and also played excellent defense in center field.
The inconsistent strike zone was a factor all game, but it really reared its ugly head in the top of the eighth. With two outs and Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart at the plate, the umpire called a 1-2 pitch from Connor Brogdon a ball, despite the fact that it was clearly within the strike zone. On the next pitch, Barnhart hit an RBI double, and Brogdon’s night was done. Hector Neris came in and promptly gave up a 2-run homer to pinch-hitter Tyler Stephenson. The score was now 7-3 Reds. If Barber had called that pitch to Barnhart a strike, the inning would have been over and the Phillies would have tied the game up on Alec Bohm’s RBI double in the bottom of the eighth. Instead, the Phillies found themselves in a four-run hole that they never got out of.
At the end of the day, there’s nothing we can do about bad umpiring except move on. It happens to every team, and it usually all evens out by the end of the season. Oh, and at least we know Karma is real, because this happened:
Thanks to @AH_Pod for all the great GIFs.