Ah, those simple days of August. The team was hitting, the pitchers were pitching, the vibes were good and we even saw the dawn of a new era in team fashion. Everything was working just as the fanbase had expected.
Then August ended, the team went to Milwaukee and a fresh portal to hell was opened.
I’ve spoken often internally here at The Good Phight about the football mentality large portions of this fanbase takes when it comes to baseball. Even as well as the team had played in August, the goodwill that had been built up around the team felt as though it evaporated once the ball zipped beneath the glove of Alec Bohm. Once that happened, the calls for the replacement of Bohm at third base were renewed. The bullpen was eviscerated for its lack of consistency. Even the manager couldn’t be spared from the snap judgements being made about the team thanks to that one groundball hit towards third base. I know we live in a hot take world where everyone is trying to make some sort of groundbreaking point about players based on one play or pitch, but it was a little jarring to see so many people come out and discuss the flaws the team had in the wake of such a productive month.
Still, it doesn’t take one to watch that game and the “game” that happened Saturday night to all of a sudden have a bit of worry creep into one’s mind. Sunday’s victory eased a bit of the bigger ones for the moment, but as the team continued into San Diego and subsequently saw more concerning issues, there are at least a few players where the red flags are starting to stand a little taller.
October does funny things to one’s expectations. After watching Alvarado dominate his way through the playoffs last year, people kind of expected that he would continue going into this season.
And that’s how he started.
Prior to his first trip to the injured list, he was dominant, striking out 24 batters in 14 1⁄3 innings. Then he came back and while he was still good, the wildness that was worrisome earlier in his career started to creep back in. After his second stint on the injured, through this weekend, he’s striking out a ton of people still, but the wildness has definitely become a concern. This weekend, Saturday in particular, his trust in his cutter, the second pitch in his arsenal, was virtually nonexistent since he didn’t really know where it was going. It led to an outing that night where he would load the bases and walk a run in, departing with those bases still loaded.
When he came back, he must have been encourage to throw that cutter again since he had a much better outing as a result.
Still, the wildness that Alvarado has been exhibiting lately does make one a bit squeamish inserting him into a high leverage situation at this moment. His appearance in San Diego was one that anyone with the game on had to watch through the slits of the fingers covering his/her eyes. For the most part, the likelihood that he figures it all out, with the encouragement of the coaching staff, is high based on how well he finished last season and began this current one.
I just wish he’d make it a little easier on our hearts.
Listen, let’s not worry about Nola’s impending free agency. Were I to put some kind of poll up about whether you would like him to return or not, we could probably guess which way that would lean. Fretting about what the team will do with him this offseason is a topic for another day.
No, the worry about Nola is that whatever has been plaguing him this year - the alarming home run rate, the uptick in walks, the pitch clock, whatever it is - will carry over into the postseason, where he will inevitably be named the second starter in whatever series behind Zack Wheeler. We’ve seen the good from Nola lately, but we’ve also been subjected to the swings of the pendulum when it comes to what kind of performance he’s going to give. If we’ve learned anything about him this season, it’s that we cannot, and should not, predict which Aaron Nola will show up.
However, if you’ll indulge a premature look at the playoffs, his unbalanced season presents somewhat of an issue to how the team plans to move forward in October. Last year, the team was able to depend on getting a “by the book” quality start from Wheeler and Nola, leaving the bullpen to be emptied the next two games. The effects of that showed late in the World Series when a worn out Jose Alvarado left a pitch over the plate for Yordan Alvarez to pummel into the night. Asking the current iteration of the bullpen to have to pick up the slack for the starters in three of four games in a playoff rotation would be asking a lot. Nola would have to be able to go five, six innings of effective pitching for the Phillies to have a chance.
The issue is that counting on that based on what has happened this year would be exceptionally difficult. There is likely a lot more trust in Nola within the confines of the clubhouse than their is in the outside world. That makes naming the #2 starter in a playoff series almost without a doubt. Yet there has to be at least some worry that we’ll see 2023 Nola and not the 2022 version.
The bullpen, in general
I want to flash back to a tweet the main account for The Good Phight put out.
Lol, Kimbrel in tier 1. I’m a dummy https://t.co/HJWLCaqekZ— The Good Phight (@TheGoodPhight) September 5, 2023
You’ll have to excuse the initial absence of Craig Kimbrel, but the fix was created. Go through the responses to the initial tweet (X?) and you’ll find a mixed opinion of what pitcher belongs in what tier. For many, having Seranthony Dominguez in the top tier of trust constitutes something nearer to a capital crime than a justifiable opinion.
Depending on how some view the team at this moment, the rankings could go any which way.
Want to have Matt Strahm in tier one? Ok.
Is Gregory Soto too high, even at tier two? Could be.
Is anyone really in tier one right now? It’s possible!
The bigger issue is that there isn’t really anyone a stone-cold lock to be in the tier one category. Rob Thomson has his pitchers that he will put into big moments, sure. We can even go back not long ago and pick out a stretch where someone on this list was excellent. Whether that stretch was a few games, a few series, a few weeks, everyone has experienced at least some modicum of sustained success.
It’s just not happening right now.
The optimistic view is that there is still time for any number of them to lock into gear heading down the final number of games. That’s what we saw prior to last year’s playoff run when Dominguez looked like he forgot where the strike zone was before becoming nigh unhittable during the playoffs. Who those pitchers are are to be determined, but right now, there hasn’t been much done to instill confidence.
Even with these worries (and any others one might have), we still need to remember that this team still occupies the top wild card spot in the National League, still has a 97.3% chance to make the playoffs according to Fangraphs, and still possesses playoff experience some of the teams behind them lack. But some cracks have been discovered in the team’s foundation, cracks that need to be fixed soon, or the magical run that occurred last year will not be repeated in 2023.