Phillies News

Strong pitching while scratching for runs the current norm for the Phillies

Aaron Nola put up another strong outing but a second straight game of 2 runs for the Phillies was not enough in their 3-2 loss to the Marlins.

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The Dodgers went to the World Series three times in four years in the mid-1960s, winning two of them. And the stick figure explanation of why and how is pretty basic.

They had a superb rotation anchored by future Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, a deep bullpen and a putt-putt offense that scored just enough, often enough to win. A typical rally is remembered as Maury Wills leading off with a walk, stealing second, being bunted to third and scoring on a sac fly.

Koufax pitched the last of his four no-hitters in Chicago in 1965. Legend has it that Drysdale was starting the next day in Houston, had flown ahead of the team in order to be well-rested and only heard the news after he landed. “Great,” he’s supposed to have said. “Did he win?”

Baseball has changed a lot in the last 60 years, but the basics remain the same.

So here we are. Due to circumstances beyond their control – injuries to starters Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto – the Phillies find themselves in a predicament remarkably similar to what the Dodgers faced six decades ago. They possess quite possibly the best top-to-bottom pitching staff in all of baseball, albeit one that’s currently relying on run support from a lineup that’s far shorter than it was even a week ago.

Aaron Nola didn’t pitch a no-hitter Saturday against the Marlins in front of another sellout at Citizens Bank Park. He only pitched really, really well and that wasn’t good enough. The last-place Fish won, 3-2, and have now taken two out of three in the series that ends Sunday. Meanwhile, the Braves won, reducing the Phils' lead back to seven games in the National League East.

The only difference from long ago Los Angeles is that the Phillies could (insert your favored superstitious ritual here) be back at full strength shortly after the All-Star break.

The problem is that, in the interim, things can start to go cattywampus. They’ve scored two runs in each of the last two games. If that continues, pitchers can start to put pressure on themselves to try to be perfect. Hitters can start to press, feeling as though they have to produce every time up.

Nola, speaking for the pitchers, doesn’t buy it. “We take every game the same, no matter what,” he said. “Obviously, it sucks not to have those guys in our lineup. But as a staff, we take the ball every time we need to. We try to limit the damage every single time no matter what the lineup is. The mindset doesn’t change.”

Shortstop Trea Turner, representing the hitters, allowed that it’s something that must be guarded against. “You want to do the same thing, right?” he said. “But I think sometimes guys try a little harder. I think that was kind of the case for me. I was trying to do a little too much and missing some good pitches to hit and then started chasing.

“It’s easy to look at from afar but when you’re out there it’s difficult not to try a little harder without those guys.”

It’s not just that the Phillies haven’t been scoring runs in the style to which they had become accustomed. It’s that they’re really having to scratch to score for everything they get.

They won Friday night in their first game without their regular first baseman, DH and catcher because Cristopher Sánchez pitched a complete game shutout and the offense managed to push across a pair of runs despite going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

They lost Saturday because, as manager Rob Thomson put it so eloquently, “We didn’t have many chances. Eight baserunners (five hits, three walks), you’re probably not going to score many runs.”

They scored in the third on back-up catcher Garett Stubb’s first home run of the year. The second run could have been a sepia-toned sequence that would have for right into Chavez Ravine back in the day, with Johan Rojas playing the role of Wills. The Phillies' centerfielder started the fifth with a walk, stole second, advanced to third (on a single to left by Bryson Stott instead of a bunt) and scoring on the sacrifice fly (by Alec Bohm.)

They also had runners on first and third with one out in the fourth, but came up empty. Edmundo Sosa hit the ball right back at pitcher Roddery Muñoz. The ball bounced off his glove and trickled toward second base. Nick Castellanos at third broke for the plate, stopped and by then it was too late. He was stranded when Muñoz retired Stubbs on a soft line drive.

“The contact play wasn’t on,” the manager said. “He was on a read and I don’t think he saw the ball pop out of the pitcher’s glove.”  

For a time, it looked as though two runs might be enough. With two outs and nobody on in the seventh, Nola had allowed one run on four hits while striking out nine. He hadn’t walked a batter. The Phillies were up by one. Then Marlins second baseman Otto Lopez doubled, bring No. 9 hitter Nick Fortes to the plate.

The catcher was hitting .158. For his career he was 1-for-13 (.077) against Nola, who was at 94 pitches. Manager Rob Thomson left him in the game to face the righthanded hitter with lefty Matt Strahm warming up. It all made sense. It just didn’t work.

Fortes ripped a double to left to tie the score. Strahm came in to face Jazz Chisolm Jr., who promptly singled home the winning run.

“First of all, if there were two runners on when we got to Fortes, I probably would have gone to Strahm,” Thomson said. “Once there were two out, I thought we should leave (Nola) in there. He’d handled him all day. And even though he was a little bit tired, I thought he could handle it.

“Unfortunately, I can’t predict the future.”

If he could gaze into a crystal baseball, he’d probably have visions of lots of low-scoring games the next few weeks.

“You can’t do anything about it. It’s out of our control,” he shrugged. “But the guys who are here are more than capable of creating runs. They’ve just got to stay within themselves and do what they can do.”

Sandy Koufax couldn’t be reached for comment.

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