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Division Series - Atlanta Braves v Milwaukee Brewers - Game One
Christian Yelich hasn’t played at an MVP level since 2019
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

And now the winning begins? Phillies vs. Brewers series preview

Maybe the worst is behind us as far as the 2022 season goes

The Phillies’ 2022 season hasn’t gotten off to the start that we hoped for. The starting pitching has been shaky, the offense hasn’t consistently produced the way we expected, and they just finished up an ugly road trip.

Phillies fans aren’t necessarily known for levelheadedness when it comes to the team, especially after we’ve endured 10 straight seasons of not making the playoffs. But before anyone finds the highest bridge in the vicinity, please remember that it’s still really early, and Wednesday’s game provided a glimmer of hope that things may have started to turn around.

Of course, my optimism has gotten me into trouble before, and this wouldn’t be the first time that the light at the end of the Phillies’ tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train. But no, I’m sure that THIS time, the Phillies will fully reward me for being positive.

Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 8-5 (Second place in National League Central)

The last time they met

The Phillies visited Milwaukee in early September and after trading blowouts in the first two games (A 12-0 Phillies win was followed by a 10-0 Brewers win), the Brewers escaped with a 4-3 victory in the finale.

What’s up with the Brewers in 2022?

They’re off to a solid start at 8-5, but that record becomes less impressive when you see that five of the wins are over the Orioles and Pirates, two franchises which are barely bothering to field teams this year.

What happened to Christian Yelich?

Christian Yelich came to the Brewers in a trade before the 2018 season, and his first two seasons in Milwaukee went better than anyone could have hoped. Yelich won the National League MVP in 2018 and finished as the runner up the following year.

That prompted the Brewers to give him a massive contract extension. And since that time, Yelich has been...ordinary. He put up an OPS of .786 in the shortened 2020 season and that dropped to .736 in 2021 as he battled back problems. Twelve games into 2022, a resurgence has yet to come. His OPS is down to .699 with just one home run, even though he’s hit some balls hard.

Maybe it’s just a matter of bad luck, but when you’re working on your third consecutive down season, luck seems like less of a valid excuse.

There’s obviously a lot of baseball yet to be played this year, so Yelich could still turn things around. Considering they’re contractually obligated to pay him $26 million per season over the next six year, the Brewers are certainly hoping he can regain his MVP-winning form.

Things are looking up?

While the Phillies’ recent road trip was mostly bad, there were some encouraging signs in the final game. Most obvious is that they hit four home runs, which is the kind of dinger mashing we expected to see a lot of this season. But there were other encouraging signs: They fought back after the Rockies took an early lead. 2-0 shouldn’t seem like an insurmountable deficit, but when a team is in a slump, it’s easy to have a “here we go again” mindset when they fall behind early. They also didn’t relax when they took the lead and continued to add to their run total, something Phillies teams haven’t done with much consistency recently.

And it was nice to see them catch some breaks. It seems like the Phillies have had a lot of hard-hit balls find gloves this season, and not a lot of the little stuff has fallen in their favor. So, when you see things like Kyle Schwarber getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded - one batter after they failed to get any runs home - that’s an encouraging sign that things might be starting to go their way.

Double your pleasure?

The Phillies’ offense hasn’t been prolific at scoring runs, but they have been prolific at hitting into double plays. They’ve hit into 14 of them, which is the second most in baseball and just one fewer than the number of home runs they’ve hit.

However, it isn’t actually clear why they’re hitting into so many double plays:

That seems to be a statistical oddity that is unlikely to continue. That’s just another reason why I believe a turnaround may be imminent.

The return of Cutch

This will be Andrew McCutchen’s return to Philadelphia after the outfielder signed with the Brewers in the offseason. However, he won’t be returning as a conquering hero. Cutch is a notoriously slow starter, and this season has been no exception, as he’s slashing .250/.306/.318 in the early going.

I always felt that the idea of Cutch on the Phillies was better than the reality. There were some good moments here and there, but it seemed he permanently lost a step after tearing his ACL in June 2019. He showed some power in 2021, but he was unsuccessful as the team’s leadoff hitter, and it was sad to see just how bad the former Gold Glover’s defense had become last season.

Fortunately for Cutch, there’s now a full-time designated hitter in the NL, and he’s spending most of his time there. He always seemed like a good guy and a good teammate, so I hope he can turn things around...just maybe not this weekend.

Trivia

Last series’ question: Phillies who have hit homers at Coors Field since the start of 2017 are Rhys Hoskins (4), Bryce Harper (3), Carlos Santana, Daniel Nava, Andrew McCutchen, J.T. Realmuto, and Maikel Franco. SLDH got six of them right.

This series’ question: The Brewers became a member of the National League in 1998, and the first game played between the Phillies and Brewers that season was a 4-2 Milwaukee win. But the Phillies got on the board first thanks to a first inning home run by what player?

Non-Phillies thought

I know it’s a regular season award, but anyone who voted for Nikola Jokic for NBA MVP has to be feeling a little silly after watching the playoffs so far. I know that a bunch of advanced statistics say that Jokic is like the most valuable player ever, but I challenge anyone who uses those stats to fully explain what they mean.

Closing thought

Saturday might turn out to be the most important game in the Phillies’ season. Zack Wheeler will get the start and the hope is that his velocity will show an uptick from what we saw in his last start. It’s possible that he’s still working his way into shape after missing most of Spring Training, but if he still can’t get his fastball back to the high 90’s, that could prove a major problem for the rest of the season.

Phight Club: Week 26

The Phillies are in the playoffs. Now who is going to play in the games?

Rise and Phight: 10/6/2022