Bailey Falter vs. Sandy Alcantara is not a match-up you expect the Phillies to win.
Sure, the Phils offense had “handled” the presumptive National League Cy Young Award winner better than any team in baseball this season, but last night, only Nick Maton was could scratch a couple runs on the board thanks to his two-run, 7th-inning home run, his second bomb off Alcantara in a week’s time, becoming the only player to hit multiple dingers off Alcantara this year.
Sandy Alcantara vs. #Phillies: 6 starts, 3.16 ERA— Scott Lauber (@ScottLauber) September 14, 2022
Sandy Alcantara vs. everyone else: 23 starts, 2.24 ERA
Those were the only two runs the Phillies would get last night and, normally, that wouldn’t be enough to win a baseball game in the heat of a playoff race. But here we are, in mid-September, and the Phillies are winning 2-1 ballgames against the best pitcher in the National League.
With Bailey Falter as their starter.
Thanks to another stellar outing from the 25-year-old left-hander, Maton’s blast held up as Falter held the Miami offense to one earned run, a Bryan De La Cruz home run in the 5th, with four hits and four strikeouts.
Last night was not an isolated incident. Falter has been Rob Thomson’s most consistent pitcher over the last six weeks, a turn of events one could not have foreseen on Opening Day, and it couldn’t have come at a more important time.
Zack Wheeler’s forearm injury was, at first, deemed minor, and the team is hopeful he will rejoin the team following their series in Atlanta this weekend, but he’s been out for nearly a month, now. Thanks to Falter, the starting rotation has hardly felt his absence.
In his last six starts, Falter has pitched 35.2 innings and allowed 10 earned runs with 30 strikeouts and just three walks, for an ERA of 2.52. Starting every 5th day has been good for the lanky lefty, and it’s fair to say that without him, the Phils would be in a much worse position in the NL Wild Card picture.
Make no mistake, the Phillies want Wheeler back as soon as possible, but Falter’s ability to churn out one quality start after another during the most important time of the year has made him the team’s unsung hero in 2022. If the Phils finish the job and break their 11-year playoff drought, Falter’s contributions will be near the top of the list of reasons why.
Heck, he’s even getting Pitching Ninja’d on a regular basis, now.
Bailey Falter, Nasty 77mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/ODPCxEAePh— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 14, 2022
The key to Falter’s success has been command. He’s stayed out of the middle of the plate and, most importantly, avoided free passes. His 2.2% walk rate since July 29 is 2nd-best among all MLB starters with at least 30 innings, and opponents have hit just .212 against him. His 21.9% strikeout rate during that stretch indicates he’s not a big swing-and-miss guy, and his 43.1% fly ball rate makes one nervous, but he’s also missing a lot of barrels and, most importantly, providing the Phillies with a consistent, innings-eating effort every time out. Last night was the 5th time in these last six starts he’s pitched at least six innings and in the other, he went 5.1.
Most importantly, he has allowed the Phils to absorb the loss of Wheeler, who had a 3.07 ERA in 23 starts prior to getting hurt.
All winning teams need depth and, in seasons past, the Phillies did not have someone like Falter to step in when the inevitable pitching injuries surfaced. They didn’t need him to be Wheeler and, to be fair, he hasn’t been, but they have won eight of his last nine starts, and that’s something you just don’t do with your No. 6 starter on the mound.
That he has done it when the games matter most, against teams good and lousy, at home and on the road, as more established arms around him have stumbled and struggled at times has been all the more impressive.
Rob Thomson has a decision to make when Wheeler is due to return from the injured list. Does he go to a six-man rotation to ease in Wheeler and give Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez, Kyle Gibson and Noah Syndergaard additional rest? Does he move Falter back to the bullpen, where he’s had mixed results throughout his career, or has Falter pitched well enough to relegate one of the other starters to the ‘pen? Should he be a prime candidate to start a postseason game, should the Phillies advance deep enough into October to need him?
Probably not, but there’s no doubt Falter is going to continue to play a major role during the last few weeks of the regular season and, if the Phils do break their playoff curse, will have some kind of impact in the postseason. He is not an ace, and he may not even be a long-term member of the rotation, but here in 2022, he has been an unsung hero.
And he just may have saved the Phillies season.