ATLANTA — The Phillies' lineup ran into the buzzsaw that is Spencer Strider Tuesday night in a 9-3 loss to the Braves.
MLB's strikeout leader with 270, Strider toyed with the Phils' offense until the top of the sixth when Bryce Harper hit a two-out, three-run homer down by seven. When Brandon Marsh opened that inning with a whiff, Strider had retired 11 in a row, nine on strikeouts.
The Phillies beat the Cy Young candidate in the 2022 NLDS when he wasn't healthy — a fact that both teams acknowledge — but in eight career regular-season matchups against the Phils, Strider is 8-0 with a 1.90 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 47⅓ innings.
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This is especially relevant because the Phillies would face the Braves in the NLDS if they advance past the wild-card round and Strider would almost certainly be their opponent in Game 1 (and Game 4 or 5, if necessary).
The Phils are 82-69 with 11 games left. They lead the Diamondbacks by 2½ games for the top National League wild-card spot and own the tiebreaker. The D-backs, Cubs, Marlins and Reds are separated by just 1½ games and only two of the four teams will make the playoffs.
Cristopher Sanchez started and faced the Braves for the second time in six days. Last Wednesday, he allowed four runs over 7⅓ innings and struck out a career-high 10. The Braves swung at 29 of his changeups that night, whiffing at 18, fouling off six and making four outs in play with just one hit, a Ronald Acuña Jr. single. Sanchez' changeup has become a legitimate weapon. Entering Tuesday night, the only lefty in the majors with a lower opponents' batting average on the change-piece was Tampa Bay's Shane McClanahan.
Acuña went yard on the first pitch of the game, a Sanchez sinker. The lefty put multiple men on base in three of his four innings but did induce two double-play balls. The killer was a two-run single by light-hitting Kevin Pillar out of the eight-hole with one out in the fourth inning.
Sanchez gave up three runs on seven hits over his four innings. All along, the Phillies planned to piggyback him Tuesday with Michael Lorenzen, who was shifted from the rotation to the bullpen over the weekend. Sanchez is 44 innings past his prior career-high but the Phils haven't seen warning signs like a dip in velocity or change to his arm angle, giving them confidence to continue starting him, even though the leash could be shorter.
Ideally, Phillies manager Rob Thomson wanted to get through Tuesday's game using just Sanchez and Lorenzen to help reset the bullpen. But Lorenzen struggled immediately upon entering and it took 37 pitches before the Braves made an out, the only out Lorenzen would record. He faced seven batters and allowed three runs on two singles, a double and three walks.
Lorenzen has a 9.23 ERA and 2.05 WHIP in 26⅓ innings since throwing his no-hitter on August 9.
Initially, it looked from a win-loss standpoint like it wouldn't have mattered whether Lorenzen got lit up or went five scoreless innings. Strider was cruising and the Phillies were already down three. Who knows if Strider would have found himself in the same situation or thrown the same pitch to Harper if the lead was still three rather than seven, but the half-inning after Lorenzen's implosion, Harper hit his three-run bomb.
Thomson did not commit to piggybacking Sanchez with Lorenzen again beyond this start. Lorenzen may quickly end up in a normal bullpen role. The Phillies also might want to find him a low-leverage situation for his next appearance because they need to get him right. Part of the reason they traded for Lorenzen, a reliever from 2016-21, at the deadline was because they figured they could use him in leverage spots in October.
The Phillies and Braves wrap up their season series Wednesday at 12:20 p.m. Aaron Nola opposes right-hander Bryce Elder. Nola badly needs a rebound performance after three straight starts under five innings, tied for the longest streak of his career.