Thanks to the heroics of Matt Vierling, the Phillies’ five-game losing streak came to a close on Wednesday night. It was great to see Vierling come through with a five-hit night, including the game winning single in the tenth. But if the Phillies want to continue to win games, they’ll likely need similar heroics from their franchise player, who hasn’t delivered many of them since his return from the injured list.
Record: 93-55 (Second place in National League East, one game back)
The last time they met
The Phillies visited Truist Park last weekend and thanks to the efforts of Ronald Acuna, Jr, and a quiet offense, they were swept in the three-game set.
The Braves won their first two games against the Washington Nationals before falling in the series finale. And would you look at that: The Nationals social media team actually put out a good tweet!
Worth it tho pic.twitter.com/JQygvqBVJp— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 21, 2022
Game 1: Thursday, 7:15 - Ranger Suarez vs. Max Fried
Suarez’s last start was his best in some time, as he went six innings, and only gave up one run. He was in position to earn the win before Seranthony Dominguez got blown up in the eighth. After Dominguez had another awful outing on Wednesday, is it time to worry about the Phillies’ ace reliever?
He’s given up big home runs to Acuna and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and to be fair, those guys ruin nights for a lot of pitchers. But aside from those home runs, Dominguez hasn’t looked sharp. Considering his injury history and the fact that he already spent time on the injured list, you have to hope his struggles aren’t due to a physical ailment.
Game 2: Friday, 7:05 - Aaron Nola vs. Jake Odorizzi
Aaron Nola will get another chance to erase the “Pitches poorly in September” narrative. In his last start, he didn’t pitch a horrible game, and if it weren’t for the existence of Acuna, it might have even been an excellent start. But alas, Acuna exists, and will likely once again be in the Braves’ lineup on Friday.
Ronald Acuña Jr. entered today with a 1.180 career OPS in 39 plate appearances against Aaron Nola. That's before that third-inning homer.— Nathan Ackerman (@NathanAckerman_) September 18, 2022
No MLB hitter has both more plate appearances AND a higher OPS against Nola than does Acuña.
You might want to pitch around him this time, Aaron.
Game 3: Saturday, 4:05 PM - Bailey Falter vs. Kyle Wright
Kyle Schwarber came through with a clutch hit on Wednesday, a night after he had three RBIs. Maybe that’s a sign that he’s heating up a little?
Heroic hit by Schwarber. Maybe a season-saver. We'll see. https://t.co/RmJjxnCeI1— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) September 22, 2022
How would you even define Schwarber’s season? You can’t really say that the NL’s leading home run hitter is having a bad season, but it’s tough to make the case that he’s having a particularly good season either. A leadoff hitter with a .312 on-base percentage is less then ideal.
I realize that he is comfortable at the leadoff spot, and they might not want to make major changes at this point of the season, but I think they need to explore other options for next year.
Game 4: Sunday, 1:05 - Kyle Gibson vs. Charlie Morton
I’d say it would be tough for Gibson to pitch worse than he did against the Blue Jays, but I don’t want to tempt fate. He’s given up seven runs in two different starts in September, which is not really what you want out of a veteran starter.
Over his 4 September starts this year, Kyle Gibson has had outings where he's allowed 7, 4, 1 and 7 earned runs, for an ERA of 9.68 and an opponents’ OPS of 1.079.— John Stolnis (@JohnStolnis) September 21, 2022
The good news for Gibson is that his start will be at the same time that the Eagles are taking on Carson Wentz and the Commanders. With many of the city’s sports fans turning their attention elsewhere, if he does have another bad start, he’ll receive less than the normal level of vitriol on social media.
We need an MVP
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about watching Acuna’s heroics last weekend is knowing that the Phillies theoretically have a guy who is capable of performing at that level. I’ve written before about Bryce Harper’s legacy, and it doesn’t look all that great right now.
Yes, he has two MVP awards to his credit, and the Nationals did win multiple division titles when he was there. But his Nationals teams never won a playoff series, and they finally broke through to win the World Series the season after he left. Meanwhile, his new team is 0-3 in terms of making the playoffs. And now in his fourth year on the Phillies, after seeing the team thrive in his injury-related absence, they’ve stumbled upon his return.
It used to be that a series against the Braves would bring out the best in Harper. In 2019, he had an OPS of 1.016 with seven home runs in 19 games against them. But for the second straight season, the Phillies have gone to Atlanta in September, and Harper has been invisible.
No shortage of blame to go around for how these series have gone, but September in Atlanta has been a nightmare for Bryce Harper the last 2 years— Paul (@paul_boye) September 18, 2022
2021: 0-for-11, 5 K
2022: 1-for-12, 5 K
If the Phillies miss the playoffs, there will be plenty of blame to go around. The pitching has been much worse since he’s been back, and I don’t think Harper has much to do with that, unless you’re of the belief that he somehow “ruined the vibe of the clubhouse.” But fair or not, if the Phillies do fall short, most fans are going to point fingers at the franchise player.
Last series’ answer: Mariano Duncan led the Phillies with ten hits in the 1993 World Series. (I would have sworn it was Lenny Dykstra) SLDH was correct.
This series’ question: Since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, who holds the Braves’ record for most hits at the stadium in a single season?
Much like the Phillies, the Milwaukee Brewers are not playing like a team determined to make it to the playoffs. But their schedule eases up with a four-game series at Cincinnati, so the Phillies can’t depend on them to keep losing games.
The Braves are a good team, but the Phillies can’t just concede defeat. They’ve beaten the Braves before this season, and there’s no reason why they can’t beat them again this weekend.