The moment is iconic.
Game 3. National League Division Series. Phillies up 1-0. Bryson Stott has just lined a pitch into the right field corner to score a run and Citizens Bank Park is rocking. Atlanta starter Spencer Strider, just off the Injured List with a strained oblique, obliterated the Phillies through the first two innings with a nasty 98-mph fastball and wipeout slider, but here in the 3rd, he ran into trouble.
After an intentional walk to Kyle Schwarber put runners on 1st and 2nd, Rhys Hoskins came up to the plate with one out, and the rest is bat spike history.
Yes, the Phils authored one of their greatest moments in franchise history against Strider, the Braves’ ace who has, in every other appearance against them in his two years as a big league starter, owned them in every which way possible.
Everyone admits Strider wasn’t healthy that day, as evidenced by the 94 mph meatball he aimed right down the middle of the plate. But during regular season play, Strider has won every single game he’s ever pitched against them.
In seven starts (eight appearances), he is 8-0. Last night’s seven inning gem saw him give up just four hits, one of them a three-run homer to Bryce Harper with Atlanta up 7-0, with 11 strikeouts and no walks. In his previous start in Philadelphia last week, the Phils forced him to throw 36 pitches in the first inning but scored just one run. He somehow managed to toss another six innings in that game, allowing just the one first inning run on four hits with nine strikeouts and two walks. Earlier this year, Strider handled the Phillies in a 4-2 win by going six innings of one-run ball, allowing eight hits but no walks and nine strikeouts, and in Philadelphia four starts prior, he went six innings and gave up two runs on two hits with nine strikeouts and one walk.
That’s 26 innings and seven runs allowed, a 2.42 ERA, with 37 strikeouts and three free passes this season, and I’m not sure those numbers do justice to just how dominant he’s been.
Going back to 1920, Strider’s career 1.90 ERA against the Phillies is tied for 8th-lowest, and since 1980, it ranks third, with only Henderson Alvarez III (1.68) and Jon Lester (1.89) ahead of him. His 13.69 K/9 vs. the Phils is far and away the best over the last century, topping Yu Darvish’s 11.44, as is his .450 OPS allowed. Only Dennis Eckersley’s 7.36 SO/BB ratio is better than Spencer’s 7.2.
In other words, Spencer may be the single most dominant force Phillies hitters have seen in the last 103 years.
What’s confusing is that Strider has been far from untouchable against other teams. In the start prior to his last two with the Phillies, he lasted just 2.2 innings against the Cardinals and was walloped for six runs on six hits with just five strikeouts and three walks. He has had nine starts in which he’s given up at least four runs and five in which he’s given up at least five. His 3.73 ERA is certainly fine, but ranks just 14th among qualified NL starters. His rotation mates Bryce Elder (3.50) and Charlie Morton (3.66) are both better.
If the Phillies are fortunate enough to move past the NL Wild Card round in a couple weeks, they will face the Braves in the NLDS again. This time, Strider will take the mound in Game 1 and, barring something unforeseen, won’t be pitching through an injury. Strider could also likely start a Game 4 or 5, something the team undoubtedly would like to avoid.
Of course, past Phillies teams have slayed dragons before. Shane Victorino’s grand slam during the 2008 playoffs against the previously unhittable CC Sabathia was a shocking surprise in that NLDS.
The Phillies will likely need a similar moment against a healthy Strider, and if they can’t find some answers for his dominance, it could be the Braves celebrating a trip to the NLCS instead of the Fightin’s this time.