Maybe the winning was becoming too easy for the Phillies; Maybe after five straight wins, they felt they needed to up the level of difficulty. Perhaps that’s why they spotted the Nationals a six-run lead on Thursday. (Or maybe the Phillies just received poor starting pitching.)
Regardless of why the Phillies faced a deficit, the Nationals - and their bullpen in particular - made sure that it wouldn’t hold up. The Phillies roared back against the Nationals’ relievers, scoring seven unanswered runs to earn a 7-6 win.
Early on, it looked like the story of the game was going to be Aaron Nola. There’s a narrative that Nola pitches poorly every September, and he did nothing to shake that today, giving up six runs in four innings.
But that ignores the fact that Nola hasn’t been great for most of 2021, and today just seemed like more of the same. One of the main reasons for his struggles has been an inability to finish off innings after he records two outs. In the third inning, he got two quick outs, but three batters later, the team was in a three-run hole.
us: stop walking Juan Soto.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 2, 2021
also us: haha. Should’ve walked him. pic.twitter.com/tWQfG3kuaE
In the fifth inning, Nola didn’t even wait for two outs to get into trouble. He allowed the first three hitters to reach base, and after Bailey Falter entered in relief, all three of those runners scored.
Against most teams, the Phillies would have been done for. But the Nationals are not most teams. Starting pitcher Paolo Espino held them scoreless for the first five innings, but after he allowed a couple of hits in the sixth, Nats manager Dave Martinez decided to trust the rest of his game to his bullpen.
That was not a wise decision. The Nats’ bullpen has shown a persistent inability to get Phillies’ hitters out, and that continued on Thursday.
Someone woke up Andrew McCutchen a few days ago, and he has once again become a dangerous hitter. His bases-loaded double into the gap halved the Nats’ lead.
Cutch singled another one home in the eighth, and then they scored a few more thanks to some poor fielding by Nats’ second baseman Luis Garcia. First, he committed an error that led to a couple of runs. Next, indecision on another ground ball allowed the Phillies to score the go-ahead run.
It was a slim lead, but the Phillies relievers (scoreless innings from J.D. Hammer, Sam Coonrod, Archie Bradley, and Ian Kennedy) were able to close it out without incident.
The win marks the seventh straight time the Phillies have scored seven or more runs. (And strangely, they’ve scored exactly seven in six of those games). More importantly, it’s their sixth win in a row, and pending the results of the Braves-Rockies game tonight, could be just a game out of first place.
The bad news is that they have no more games against the Nationals left on the schedule. They’ll next head to Miami, which hasn’t always been a hospitable place for the Phillies in recent years. We’ll soon determine if the Phillies are really going to make a push for the playoffs, or if this recent run has mostly been the result of good old incompetence by the Nationals.