Every time the Phillies lose a game in September, there’s a heavy “Oh no, another late-season collapse!” sentiment on social media. And I get it. With a playoff berth seemingly within reach, the Phillies did not finish strongly in any of the previous four seasons.
But what happened in 2018 has little effect on what will happen in 2022. If you take a look at the Phillies’ roster, you’ll see that the current version looks much stronger than what they were running out there in past years. And that’s why this year should be different.
Record: 88-55 (Second place in National League East, one game back)
The last time they met
I called the Braves bottom feeders in my series preview, and several fans thought it was clever to throw it back in my face when the Braves won the first game against the Phillies’ bullpen. They certainly quieted up when Zack Wheeler shut down the Braves’ lineup in the next game.
If the Braves can only succeed when facing a series of relievers - and not many of the good ones at that - as opposed to a good starting pitcher, it kind of seems like my bottom feeder assessment was spot on.
Despite a couple of lengthy winning streaks, the Braves have been unable to surpass the Mets at the top of the division. This series marks their return home from a west coast road trip where they lost their last two series.
Game by game preview
Game 1: Friday, Sep. 16, 7:20 - Ranger Suarez vs. Max Fried
Remember when the Phillies lost the finale of the Pirates series, and most of us shrugged saying, “Oh well. Can’t win them all, even against bad teams?” The problem was that they continued to lose more games throughout the following week.
Hopefully, Thursday’s loss will not similarly herald a losing streak and well instead turn out to be just a blip on an otherwise successful radar. The best way to ensure that happens is for the Phillies to come out strong on Friday and win the game. (Yes, it’s that simple!)
Game 2: Saturday, Sep. 17, 7:20 - Aaron Nola vs. Jake Odorizzi
At the center of the “Phillies late season collapse” angst is Aaron Nola. As our stats guru will point out, Nola hasn’t been nearly as bad in his late season starts as many perceive.
“Nola has always been bad down the stretch.”— schmenkman (@tgpschmenk) July 26, 2022
Unless, by "stretch" we don't mean July (3.01 ERA), or August (2.93).
Or most Septembers -- only 2 have been above the high 3's in ERA since his rookie year:
I think the problem is that in every season, his September numbers have been worse than his overall numbers, and it comes at a time when just about every start has been important.
We’d like to see Nola raise his game in September and help carry the team to the postseason. Since his last start was abbreviated due to rain, he should be feeling relatively fresh for this one.
Game 3: Sunday, Sep. 18, 1:35 - Bailey Falter vs. Spencer Strider
Bailey Falter continues to go out and provide quality starts for the Phillies. Sadly, if the Phillies make it to the playoffs, Falter could be left off their roster.
This is somewhat inspired by Gelb in his chat today coming to the conclusion that it is probably Falter that goes down when Wheeler is back, but unless someone gets hurt, I don't know where McGarry would fit if he got back on track.— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) September 15, 2022
There is plenty of road to cross until we get to that particular bridge though. All Falter can do at this point is to keep pitching well.
RISP and our perception of the Phillies’ success
Apologies to anyone who already read my response to this tweet:
#Phillies lead MLB in hitting with RISP.— schmenkman (@tgpschmenk) September 15, 2022
Breakdown by situation:
12_: 95-319 (.298 -- 1st in MLB)
1_3: 42-121 (.347 -- 4th)
_2_: 94-363 (.259 -- 5th)
__3: 33-100 (.330 -- 3rd)
_23: 23-101 (.228 -- 18th)
123: 19-99 (.192 -- 30th)
all RISP: 306-1103 (.277 -- 1st)
This explains why our minds are blown when we see that the Phillies have been one of the best hitting teams with runners in scoring position. Haven’t we watched them fail over and over in such situations?
If there are runners on first and second, there are indeed runners in scoring position, but we’re not necessarily expecting a run to score in that situation. And many times, a simple base hit will not actually score the runner. As a result, we tend to forget about all the times they succeeded in that scenario.
However, if there are runners on second and third, we do expect them to score a run, and that expectation grows when the bases are loaded. Therefore, their failures in those situations are more glaring.
It’s not 2019 anymore
Look at the Phillies’ lineup from a Phillies vs. Braves game in mid-September 2019:
This wasn’t a Sunday afternoon, rest-the-starters lineup. This is what Gabe Kapler put out there for game one of an important series against the Atlanta Braves. You feel much better about the Phillies’ regular lineup these days after seeing that, don’t you?
Then there’s the starting pitching. Noah Syndergaard and Kyle Gibson turn in their share of frustrating starts, but I’d watch a thousand Thor starts over seeing Velasquez throw another pitch in a Phillies uniform. And he wasn’t even their worst starter that season. The Phillies were running Nick Pivetta, Jason Vargas, and a washed-up Jake Arrieta out there on a regular basis.
Do I really have to compare the 2022 Phillies bullpen with those from recent seasons? Nobody, wants to see that, right?
I understand why you might be a little nervous that the Phillies might blow it again this year. But take a look at the roster, and you’ll see that this time, they have the talent to actually get the job done.
Note: The most surprising thing is that the Phillies actually won that game! Velasquez pitched as well as he ever does (Don’t get excited, that means he gave up two runs in five innings), and Jose Pirela (whoever the heck he is) hit a home run.
Last series’ answer: The only Phillie to have multiple triples in a game at Marlins Park was Nick Williams on July 19, 2019. Nobody was able to remember old Nicky.
This series’ question: Since Truist Park opened in 2017, four different Phillies starting pitchers have pitched seven or more innings in a single start at the stadium. Who were they?
Late season series at Truist Park haven’t always gone well for the Phillies in recent years, but as I’ve pointed out, the 2022 Phillies are different. Relax, and enjoy what may turn out to be a preview of a playoff series.