Déjà vu: you’ve probably experienced it. Maybe when walking down a hall that seems, for some unplaceable but ineffable reason, like one you passed through every day in your high school. Maybe when eating a favorite dish that your grandma made for your in your youth.
And definitely when watching the Phillies this afternoon. It’s too early in the season for a real picture of the 2023 Fightins to come into focus, but certainly not too early for familiar patterns and narratives to form, to say nothing of the narratives carrying over from past seasons. Then again, we have to say something about one of those narratives, because at this point it’s just about inescapable. Why do the Phillies seem to have so much trouble with the Marlins?
It didn’t take long for familiar feelings to creep in. After a relatively sedate top of the 1st, with Zack Wheeler allowing a double to Jorge Soler and sending batters 1, 3, and 4 down, Bryson Stott strode to the plate. One of the most cheering narratives of the otherwise laborious start to 2023 is Stott’s hitting streak, which stood at 11 games as he batted leadoff, a position that itself speaks to his accomplishments in the young season. Moments later his streak hit 12, as he singled to right. A few moments after that, he stole second, and then Trea Turner singled to put him on third.
And then: Déjà vu for the Phillies faithful. “Haven’t I seen this before? Early hits, a runner in scoring position, and next—” Yes, you have seen it before, and yes, you saw it again: Kyle Schwarber popped out, Nick Castellanos struck out. Turner stole second to put himself in scoring position, and then JT Realmuto struck out to turn that early momentum into bupkis. Stott’s improved hitting, team struggles with RISP, Schwarber and Realmuto sledding uphill with bat in hand. Familiar patterns showing themselves early, with more to come.
The next two innings played out without fanfare, save for a Turner two-out double off the wall in the bottom of the third. In the fourth, Wheeler struck out Soler (his 5th K of the day) before allowing a double to Arráez, who seemed to be continuing the narrative of his Phillies-killing ways from last night. Bryan De La Cruz singled to right to score Arráez before two quick outs stopped the bleeding.
Castellanos responded with a leadoff double, and, after Realmuto struck out, Marsh produced his own RBI single to right to tie it up. Alec Bohm grounded into a double play to end the inning, but the Phillies were on the board.
At that point, it was time for another narrative to show itself again: a Phillies pitcher melting down around the 5th inning. After a quick putout, Wheeler lost the strike zone, walking three of the next four batters. It all seemed, yes, so familiar. But what starts out seeming familiar doesn’t necessarily end that way. A flyout with the bases loaded sent the Fish down without a run, and Wheeler survived to pitch into the 6th.
The bottom of the 5th got started with a flyout and then a Kody Clemens single to right, his first hit in Phillies pinstripes (metaphorically; the Phillies were wearing their day game cream alternates). A double from a seemingly unstoppable Stott sent Clemens home, and the Phillies had a lead.
All the guy does is hit baseballs. Batting average up to .426 pic.twitter.com/ipvKNeR17D— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 12, 2023
Following that was an extraordinary, ordinary top of the 6th: ordinary because it was a plain 1-2-3 inning, and extraordinary because it marked just the second time this season that a Phillies starter completed 6 innings. A pattern broken, and maybe, a sign of narratives reversing and new things to come.
Or maybe not. Looking for a spark, the Phillies sent two consecutive pinch-hitters to the plate in the bottom of the 7th: Edmundo Sosa for Jake Cave, and Josh Harrison for Clemens. The Phillies’ struggle to get production from the bottom of the lineup is a narrative too, and both pinch hitters struck out.
Then Jose Alvarado allowed a leadoff homer to Jorge Soler to start the 8th and tie the game. Arráez flew out to center, but made strong contact in doing so; Alvarado was pulled for Seranthony Dominguez, who navigated the rest of the inning without allowing another run. The Phillies, who hadn’t put a runner on since the 5th, went down 1-2-3 again.
And then the 9th: Gregory Soto came to the mound with his own narrative, one that he had brought with him to Philly: tremendous firepower, but a lack of an ability to locate it. And that narrative, too, seemed to play out as he walked his second batter of the inning on just four pitches. But just as suddenly, he seemed to put it aside: two consecutive strikeouts to end the ninth, and give the Phillies a chance to walk it off. If, of course, they could end the most baffling narrative of all: their inexplicable habit of stumbling when faced with the Fish.
They couldn’t. The rest was not dramatic. Craig Kimbrel relieved Soto after the first batter of the 10th struck out. Then De La Cruz singled to right, scoring the ghost runner. Cristian Pache swung at the first pitch he saw and popped out. Déjà vu again; there would be no upending of the narrative regarding his ability to hit. Stott and Turner went down on a strikeout and fly out to end it and drop the series.
Once again, the Phillies find a way to make it look difficult when playing Miami. Once again they struggle to turn opportunity into runs, and once again they lose. This sort of loss, to this specific opponent, will happen again, but eventually it’ll come as a meaningless one-off instead of a maddeningly familiar refrain. But for now, the song remains the same.