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World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game One

Cause what you see, you might not get: Phillies vs. Reds series preview

The Phillies’ problems are obvious: The stars aren’t shining

Aaron Nola has not been good in 2023
| Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

It’s not too difficult to identify what’s wrong with the Phillies: The starting pitchers aren’t pitching deep into games, and it’s putting too much strain on the bullpen. Offensively, they can get runners on base, but they’re not getting enough of them home, and the power output has been underwhelming. And it feels like the biggest culprits are the biggest names on the team.

Four games against the Reds seems like a good opportunity to get those problems resolved. On the other hand, the Phillies just played the Reds last weekend, and despite the Reds’ seeming deficiency in talent, they gave the Phillies all they could handle.

Cincinnati Reds

Record: 4-7, Fifth place in National League Central (3.5 games back)

The last time they met

Last weekend, the Phillies hosted the Reds at Citizens Bank Park. After a solid victory on Opening Day, and a ninth-inning comeback on Saturday, the Phillies looked to be heading in the right direction. But a mistake-filled, come-from-ahead loss on Sunday made it obvious that the Phillies’ problems weren’t behind them yet.

Since then?

The Reds travelled to Atlanta and were swept in a three-game series. The Reds were predicted to be bad in 2023, and they seem determined to fulfill those expectations.

Another shot at Lodolo

It’s hard to blame the Reds’ struggles on starting pitcher Nick Lodolo. The second-year starter has given up just two runs and struck out 21 in his first two starts of the season. He dominated the Phillies last weekend and was only denied a win because the Reds’ bullpen collapsed in the ninth.

The Phillies will get another crack at him this series, as he’ll be starting the series opener. It’s often an advantage for a lineup to get a second look at a pitcher in such a short period of time. However, the way things are going for the Phillies this season, it feels just as likely that he dominates them again.

Stars gonna shine?

Before the season, many people believed the team would need breakthrough performances from young players like Brandon Marsh, Alec Bohm, and Bryson Stott. If I said, the team would get better than expected performances from those three, along with Matt Strahm, Bailey Falter, and Jose Alvarado, you’d probably think the Phillies were off to a good start.

We can talk about the issues that the bottom of the roster players like Jake Cave, McKinley Moore, and Cristian Pache are having, but there’s a reason those are fringe players. We shouldn’t expect much out of them. It’s much more problematic that stars like Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Nola, and J.T. Realmuto are struggling. To a lesser extent, Nick Castellanos and Trea Turner are underperforming as well. (The numbers look okay, but it feels like there’s a lack of impact, especially since they’ve combined for zero home runs.)

Perhaps this is actually a good sign for the Phillies’ prospects. Those stars have a long enough track record, that it’s reasonable to expect them to start playing up to their usual standards soon. Assuming they do, and the younger guys can keep performing at a high level, this team will be in very good shape.

On the other hand, if the stars don’t turn things around soon, and we get regression from the others, this season could get ugly.

The Reds as an MCU villain

Baron Strucker

HYDRA is one of the oldest groups of villains in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, vexing the forces of good since olden times. But by the time Baron Wolfgang von Strucker took control in Age of Ultron, the organization was a sad shell of its former glory and was absolutely routed by the Avengers. Strucker is so unimposing and irrelevant at the end that he gets killed by Ultron off-screen and nobody even cares.

Strucker: Barely a threat

Also, much like Hydra, the Reds were once run by someone who greatly admired Adolf Hitler.

Non-Phillies thought

In honor of the final day of Passover, I’ll introduce a concept I like to call a Matzoh Ball Soup song.

Growing up, it was a given that the best part of Passover dinner was going to be the matzoh ball soup at the start of the meal. The soup was always delicious, and left you anticipating more greatness, but inevitably, the rest of the meal didn’t live up to those high standards and felt like a letdown.

There are certain songs that mirror that experience. They have great introductions, and you think you’re in for an amazing listening experience, only to be let down when the rest of the song can’t match the greatness of the opening.

One such song is “People Everyday” by Arrested Development. The 1992 song borrows its chorus and structure from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” and it opens with a bang.

When we get to the “Whoooaaa! Yeeaaahhhs!” at the 0:26 mark, it feels like we’re in for an all-time great musical experience. But when the lyrics start at 0:58, it just kind of loses something. And I’m not a big fan of the extended outro with the “scatting.” Getting back to my Passover metaphor, it reminds me of the disappointing dessert, which usually consists of bland, flour-free cake. It’s just not the tastiest way to end things.

Closing thought

It would be great if Schwarber, Realmuto, Nola, and Dominguez all had strong series and the Phillies easily dismissed the Reds. But at the moment, there’s no reason to expect that. Based on relative talent levels, the Phillies should certainly win the series, but I don’t expect it to be easy.

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