After series’ wins against the White Sox, Rockies, Mariners, and Astros, and reaching two games over .500, it stung to watch the Phillies get swept in L.A. and then drop two at home to Boston.
Offensively, the Phillies are slashing well enough, coming into the game today at .265/.321/.431. Bryce Harper is back and, thankfully, already looks like Bryce Harper. With today’s win, only one other team has more than the Phillies’ 321 hits: the Boston Red Sox.
Yet, the Phillies are 13th in runs scored with 150. Solo homers and leaving runners stranded have become this team’s calling card. Kyle Schwarber should be batting closer to .250 than .175 and entered today’s game 0 for his last 20 - a slump that likely forced him from leadoff to the number five slot - and a slump that ended this afternoon in spectacular fashion.
Today’s victory might be a sign that the offense has fallen into sync, though of much more concern still is the inconsistent and unpredictable starting arms.
As Scott Lauber pointed out last night, the Phillies starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 5.03. When your team is hunting a playoff berth, a starting rotation ERA higher than Snoop Dog on a plane is no bueno. Yes, it’s early in the season, but there’s little indication - at least looking in from the outside - that much of anything is in motion to improve the starting arms. No matter how hot the bats get, it’s unlikely they can ever make up for feeble performances from the mound.
Still, there’s plenty of time for the Phillies to adjust, upgrade, and surge. But that window doesn’t stay open forever.
The Phillies bought themselves more time to figure it out on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in front of a packed house. Taijuan Walker took the mound with an ERA of 6.91, a far cry from the 3.49 he posted with the Mets last year when he went 12-5. Having dominated the first halves of each of his previous two seasons, Walker has struggled so far in pinstripes. He’s acknowledged that he needs to do better and go longer into games, and that’s exactly what he delivered this afternoon, going six full innings and allowing only a single earned run over three hits while striking out six and not giving up a single walk.
The game got off to an eventful start. In the top of the first inning, Masataka Yoshida tapped a low and away splitter into shallow left for a single. Third base umpire Lance Barrett claimed that a swing and a miss to Raimel Tapia was a foul after home plate ump Charlie Ramos called it strike three. But Walker was able to pick off Yoshida at first and then induce Ramos to pop out.
Walker appeared relaxed and confident throughout the six innings he tossed. Other than J.T. getting picked off stealing second, and then J.T. picking off Tapia stealing second, the game hummed along without much action through the top of the fourth.
Taijuan Walker pitched six innings of three hit, one run ball today. More importantly, he didn't allow any walks -- which is something he's struggled with this year. After his last outing, the Phillies told him to simplify things. It seems to be working:https://t.co/FPSzH8v8kX— Alex Coffey (@byalexcoffey) May 7, 2023
The fun for the home team ramped up in the bottom of the fourth when Bryson Stott and Turner reached base on back-to-back singles. Houck walked Harper to load the bases. Nick Castellanos stepped into the batter’s box with no outs and hit a ground ball to Rafael Devers at third base for what looked like an easy double play for Boston. But Devers bobbled the ball and his only play was to tag Turner as he twisted past him and slid into third. Stott crossed home plate to put the Phillies on the board. With runners at first and second, Schwarber stepped up to the plate and ended his 0-21 drought by cracking a grounder into right field. Harper, who was practically dancing down the baseline toward third before Schwarber even made contact with the ball, easily beat the throw home and trotted across the plate. The inning ended with the Phillies up 2-0.
Boston answered in the fifth with a solo shot from Tristin Casas. It was the only run the Phillies surrendered.
The Fightins bought themselves a bit more breathing room in the bottom of the sixth when Harper singled then reached second on a ground out by Castellanos. With two outs, Boston pulled Houck and brought in reliever Richard Bleier to face Kyle Schwarber. On Bleier’s second pitch of the day, a cutter left over the middle of the plate, Schwarber blasted it into the second level seats in right field. The inning ended with the Phillies up 4-1.
SCHWARBOMB#RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/x59XfAVd38— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) May 7, 2023
Jose Alvarado managed the seventh inning without giving up a run. In the eighth and ninth innings, Matt Straham looked sharp in his second appearance as a reliever this season as he struck out three and allowed only one hit.
In the bottom of the eighth, Stott started things off with a twelve pitch at-bat that ended with an out on a fly ball. Boston reliever Zack Littell walked Turner on five pitches. Harper delivered a line drive to left field that was thwarted by an impressive diving catch by Tapia. Castellanos caught a piece of a slider and sent it bounding over third base for a double and sent Turner to third. The Red Sox intentionally walked Schwarber. J.T Realmuto came to the plate with bases loaded and roped a fastball into left field to send both Turner and Harper home, giving the Phillies a 6-1 lead.
And that’s what the scoreboard would read when Strahm recorded the last out of the game.
While today’s win was fun to watch and very much needed, it doesn’t mean much if it’s not repeatable. Let’s hope this team has figured something out and that this win is the start of a string of W’s so they can chip their way back to .500 and beyond.
Daycare shenanigans have returned pic.twitter.com/9dlxPoIm9N— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 7, 2023
The Blue Jays come to town tomorrow sporting an impressive record of 20-14 (as of this writing), which is somehow still only good enough for fourth place and seven games behind in the AL East. Aaron Nola is scheduled to toss eight scoreless innings in a 6-0 victory over Toronto that will feature a three-run homer from Bryce in the fifth.*
* Actual results may vary.
Observations from Left Field:
- Gordon Lightfoot, best known for his hit song “The Wreck of the 2015 Phillies,” which made no sense in ‘76 and thus was re-written to tell the tale of a ship that Lake Superior swallowed, died on Monday at the age of 84. The last words uttered by “The Foot,” as he was known as by at least one of my exes, are assumed to have been, “I’ll devote every ounce of my power in the afterlife to ensuring the Phillies never win another game.” Before today’s game Dave Dombrowski was spotted entering the clubhouse carrying a Ouija board and muttering about sending the spirit of a Canadian recording artist to hell.
- Oakland A’s Broadcaster Glen Kuiper devised the least creative way to give his two-weeks’ notice when he committed a ‘verbal wardrobe malfunction’ when discussing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Maybe with the A’s abandoning Oakland, Glen is vying for a job in Boston.