ST. LOUIS — Coming off of back-to-back series losses for the first time since the first week after the All-Star break, the Phillies beat the Cardinals Saturday night to earn a series win and inch closer to securing the National League's top wild-card spot.
The Phils are 81-67 with 14 games remaining. They lead the Cubs by three games in the loss column for the first wild-card position and own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
They took a lead four batters into Saturday's game with a Trea Turner double and RBI single from Alec Bohm. The Phillies have yet to trail in the series after scoring four times in the first inning Friday and maintaining that lead, albeit narrowly, the rest of the way.
Saturday's 6-1 win was much more comfortable. Kyle Schwarber helped open up a four-run lead in the fifth inning with a line-drive, three-run homer to right field, snapping an 0-for-16 skid which included 12 strikeouts.
"Finally," he said. "It felt good to finally snap out of it for a little bit, especially with runners in scoring position there with less than two outs, being able to get those runs in."
Schwarber is up to 44 home runs and 97 RBI on the season. Bohm's first-inning RBI brought him to 90 on the season. The Phillies have three players — Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Bohm — with at least 90 RBI. The only other MLB teams with at least three 90-RBI guys are the Braves and Dodgers.
The fifth-inning rally started with consecutive singles to right field by Brandon Marsh and Johan Rojas, the eight and nine hitters. Marsh has been an on-base machine this season (.374 OBP), while Rojas has exceeded expectations offensively through 127 plate appearances, hitting .298 with a .344 OBP. He's had multiple hits in three of his last four games. Rojas is legitimately one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball already based on traditional metrics, advanced metrics and the eye test. If he can hold his own at the dish, look out.
"Really good, really professional at-bats," manager Rob Thomson said of Rojas. "He's not chasing much. Even his (seventh-inning) bunt, just smart, he's trying to add on. He's learning, and our player development people have done a great job with him, teaching him the game and the fundamentals of the game. He's just been great. He made a couple of catches tonight that I'm not sure if anybody else makes."
Rojas' excellent first step and reaction time were on display at least three times Saturday night. He was turned around a bit but settled under a deep line drive over his head by Tommy Edman to begin the bottom of the first. With an average center fielder, it might have been a triple. An inning later with two Cardinals aboard, Rojas broke in and caught Jordan Walker's shallow bloop to center on the run. In the sixth, Luken Baker rocketed a line drive to deep right-center and Rojas galloped to his left to corral it. The Edman and Baker liners had expected batting averages of .550 and .610.
Ranger Suarez turned in a second straight strong start. His last time out, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and struck out a career-high 10 Marlins. On Saturday at Busch Stadium, he limited the Cardinals to one run over six innings.
"A quality start, our first one in a while, I think, and we needed it," Thomson said. "It's huge because we haven't been getting much length lately. Maybe this is the first one of a string of them. He's really pitched well the last couple times out."
With two weeks left before the playoffs, Suarez is pitching like one of the Phillies' top two starters. Aaron Nola hasn't finished five innings in three straight starts, Taijuan Walker's allowed 19 runs and walked 16 in his last 26 innings, and Michael Lorenzen was moved to the bullpen Saturday.
Suarez has a 3.16 ERA in 17 starts since May 30. He's been better lately than every Phillies starter other than Zack Wheeler. He is also probably fresher than the rest of the rotation because of the two months he missed this season — one with a forearm/elbow injury, the other with a hamstring strain.
"That's what happens sometimes, you always get injuries, and sometimes it's a blessing in disguise because you've got to battle through them," Thomson said.
"I'm aware that I missed almost two months so I want to make up for it," he said. "If it's tomorrow, in a week, two weeks or the postseason, whatever I have to do to make up for it, I'll be ready."
The Phils have one game left with the Cardinals, three in Atlanta, a seven-game homestand against the Mets and Pirates and one final road series at Citi Field to finish out the 2023 regular season.
Walker is on the mound for Sunday's series finale at 2:15 p.m. ET. The Phils face Dakota Hudson, a right-handed sinkerballer who doesn't miss bats, just like Saturday's opponent, Miles Mikolas.
"There were some tough losses back home, but there was a lot of fight and we were never out of it," Schwarber said of the Phillies' response after losing five of seven games on their last homestand. "There were some positive things to take out of it, and now we're going out there and were able to take care of business these first two games and looking to take care of business tomorrow."