The Phillies received another poor start from Taijuan Walker, and though the latest round of heroics from Trea Turner and Bryce Harper brought them all the way back Monday afternoon, they lost in extra innings, 10-8, to open a huge four-game series against the Braves.
The teams meet again Monday night in the second game of a split doubleheader.
The Phils fell behind 2-0, 5-2 and 8-4. Turner hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to bring things closer and Harper added yet another dramatic late-game bomb in an enormous spot to his Phillies resume to tie it in the ninth.
Jose Alvarado, who has allowed six runs (three earned) and 10 baserunners over his last 5⅓ innings, lost the game in the 10th, allowing an RBI single and RBI double.
The Phillies are 78-65. If they lose the nightcap and the Cubs win in Colorado, the Phils' lead for the top wild-card spot would be reduced to just a half-game (along with the tiebreaker).
Walker has allowed 19 runs in 26 innings over his last five starts. His ERA is up to 4.30, the highest it's been since mid-June. Some of the recent struggles have been masked by the Phillies' consistent run support for him — they had won 13 of his last 15 starts and 20 of 25 prior to Monday.
"Taijuan's deal today was really an inability to throw strikes," manager Rob Thomson said. "Getting behind in the count. I liked the stuff, he got some swings and misses early, then started to spray the ball around and that's not him. He's a strike-thrower so we've got to get back to that."
Walked walked three Braves and hit two. This Atlanta offense might be the best and deepest Major League Baseball has ever seen, so obviously any extra baserunners can spell disaster. He attributed his issues Monday to not being aggressive enough, which he's often said after rough outings this season. He did acknowledge that a pitcher isn't as prone to aggression against a lineup as historically powerful as the 2023 Braves.
Walker began the sixth inning with the Phillies down 5-4. Travis d'Arnaud lined out and Orlando Arcia doubled to end his day. Thomson said after the game that had the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the fifth, Walker's afternoon would have been over.
Andrew Bellatti came on for Walker and gave up back-to-back homers to Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr. He was optioned to Triple A after the game and Yunior Marte was recalled.
Bellatti has not been a major piece of the Phillies' bullpen this season but Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez and Gregory Soto have been and they're all trending the wrong way. Dominguez' swing-and-miss rates are way down significantly the last three weeks and he's allowed game-tying and go-ahead home runs in his last two outings. Soto has given up nine runs in his last 9⅓ innings.
"They've been giving up some runs lately," Thomson said of the bullpen. "I think we're just going through a period and we'll work it out. They need to get some rest, but it's tough to get rest right now. We make it to that off day (Thursday) and we'll be fine. I trust them, there's good stuff down there. They've got to throw strikes and command the baseball and they will again."
These next few days for the Phillies are massive. They have a four-game series with the best team in baseball while the Cubs have three games at Coors Field against the worst team in the National League. They don't want to let home-field advantage in the wild-card round slip away with a bad week of baseball.
Concerns in the middle of the Phillies' rotation and bullpen stood out most Monday afternoon, but the lineup didn't go down quietly. The first four hitters — Kyle Schwarber, Turner, Harper and Alec Bohm — went a combined 8-for-16 with two homers, a double, seven RBI and eight runs scored.
Turner has 15 home runs and 37 RBI in his last 31 games. Schwarber has 16 home runs, 29 RBI and 35 runs scored in his last 31.
Harper's ninth-inning homer was his fourth in his last five at-bats vs. Braves closer Raisel Iglesias, whom he figures to face again in 2023.
Bohm drove in three runs and is up to 89 RBI.
The Braves can clinch the NL East in Philadelphia by winning two of the final three games of the series. Atlanta might have home-field advantage over the Dodgers wrapped up in the next 7 to 10 days.
Thomson said preventing a Braves celebration at Citizens Bank Park isn't on the mind of the team. They have incentive enough to take care of their own business.
"We've lost a lot of games in our division so that's probably the separator between us at least being close to the Braves and not," he said. "... We didn't play well against them last year and we beat them in the playoffs. I'm not saying that's going to happen, but it can happen."