Observations as Bullpen (Finally) Comes Through, Phils Earn Split With Yanks

phillies yankees
PHOTO CREDIT: GREGORY FISHER-USA TODAY SPORTS

Whew.

Yeah, the Phillies offense and bullpen pissed all over Aaron Nola’s gem last night, but let’s step back and take a look at the big picture.

If you would’ve told me that after a long layoff the Phillies would rebound to split with the Yankees this week, well, I’d sign up for that.

And if you told me the bullpen would record 15 outs against the Yankees’ powerful lineup to earn said split, I would have laughed in your face, and then I would have signed up for it.

And yet, that is exactly what happened.

Trailing by a run in the eighth with a runner on third and two down, Yankees manager Aaron Boone sent pinch hitter Aaron Judge to the plate. Joe Girardi countered by yanking Jose Alvarez and turning to Hector Neris to put out the fire.

Full disclosure here, there’s no way on earth I would’ve gone after Judge in that spot, even with Gio Urshela on deck.

Neris, however, made quick work of Judge, so I guess that makes me an asshole.

Neris would come back out for the ninth, and, of course, things got weird. After quickly retiring the first two batters, DJ LaMahieu and Mike Tauchman would single. That brought Luke Voit to the plate, who put a charge into a 379 ft. flyout.

After the game, Girardi explained his decision to, dare I say, be bold.

We talked about it out there. I talked about with J.T. and I said don’t give in. Basically, don’t give in. If we get in a bad situation, never give in. Aaron Judge, as great of a hitter as he is, and all hitters, as great as they can be, if you make your pitches you have a chance. I mean, they hit .300 for a reason, they don’t hit 1.000. But if you don’t make your pitches, that’s when they make you pay, and I thought Hector and J.T. had a great plan and they executed it.

The win gives the Phils some momentum as they welcome the Braves to town for what already feels like a critical four-game set. You know what? It is a critical four-game set. We don’t need to play it cool and do the “it’s early” thing. This is the best team in the division, and this weekend brings an opportunity for the Phillies to make a statement.

Let’s take a spin around the diamond (and beyond the gates of Ashburn Alley) for tonight’s observations.

Let’s Make Some Noise!

Here’s what we learned tonight. You can keep Philly fans out of the park, but Philly fans are still going to find a way to piss-off the opposition. It’s science.

Following the top of the third inning, Yankees manager Aaron Boone walked onto the field, presumably to discuss the noise created by a group of fans stationed beyond the gates of Ashburn Alley.

There’s drums, chants, airhorns. They’ve got a little bit of everything going on out there, but I believe it was the horn, which sounded during a New York at-bat, that drew Boone’s ire.

“Boone, you suck!” was heard from the press box just moments later. A group that calls themselves “The Phandemic Krew” has been assembling outside the stadium the last two nights, and I don’t think they appreciated Boone’s whining.

After the game, Yanks starter Jordan Montgomery wasn’t upset with the fans, he was upset with…the Phillies broadcast crew?

That’s, uh, kinda weird, man, and I have to say, I didn’t hear anything crazy from my spot in the press box. Anyway, here’s Tom McCarthy’s response to such a fierce accusation:

Show Him The Money!

I already wrote about this, but we’ll quickly touch on the Bryce Harper/J.T. Realmuto love fest again.

After Realmuto launched a three-run homer to give the Phillies an early lead, Harper waited for his man at the plate, and, predictably, showed some love. This time, he went with an air signature on an air check. Rightfully so.

Realmuto is doing it all right now. Let us count the ways.

Power

Do you like home runs? Realmuto can hit them.

Defense

Do you like lightning-quick pop times paired with a cannon? He has those things, too.

Realmuto also helped steal a called third-strike to Giancarlo Stanton in the first inning on a pitch that was just out of the zone.

Base running

In the third, Realmuto legged out an infield single to keep the inning alive. Barrels Gosselin, as they call him, followed with a two-run double that gave the Phillies a 5-2 lead.

He also made a heads-up base running play in game one of yesterday’s doubleheader. Here was my take on that play:

After Realmuto walked, Jean Segura blooped a soft base-hit over the head of DJ LeMahieu. Alertly, Realmuto noticed second base was unoccupied and didn’t hesitate in taking third as he recognized an errant throw was coming in to the vacant bag…This is the type of shit that sets a tone. Guys in the clubhouse feed off of stuff like this. And that’s exactly what happened in this game. It helped to create a run, revved up the momentum, and things started happening.

A clinic. The man has been putting on a clinic. I wonder if there was $125 million written on this air check, anyway:

Zach Eflin’s Brief (But Solid) Start

Zach Eflin lasted just four innings on Thursday night, but that’s not entirely on him. After a 15-pitch first inning in which he pounded the strike zone and induced weak contact, a misplay by Scott Kingery cost him both pitch efficiency and two unearned runs.

Following a one-out bunt single by Brett Gardner, Gio Urshela grounded softly back to Eflin who turned and fired to second base.  The potential inning-ending double play instead resulted in no outs as Kingery failed to look in the throw.

Three batters later, Mike Tauchman plated a pair of runs with a single to center.

More damaging was that Eflin needed an additional 23 pitches to finish the third. Not only did the gaffe take Eflin out of line for the win, it also left the bullpen to nail down 15 outs.

The Phillies won, and the bullpen pitched fairly well, and I still shuddered as I wrote that sentence.

A lot was made last season and throughout the winter about the previous coaching staff wanting Eflin to utilize the top third of the strike zone with some frequency. After experiencing a brutal stretch in July that temporarily earned him a demotion to the bullpen, Eflin did things his way down the stretch and posted a 2.80 ERA over his final six starts.

Eflin, who topped out at 95.5 mph and sat consistently around 93 mph tonight, wants to pitch in the lower part of the zone, and it’s obvious. Take a look his 3D pitch visualizer, per MLB Statcast:

eflin

Note that there’s only a handful of pitches at the very top of or above the strike zone. Hit corners, use late run, use sink, and be efficient. If Eflin is ever going to find the consistency that has eluded him early in his career, this is how it’s going to happen.

After the game, I asked him if he was making a concerted effort to use the lower-third of the zone. I thought his response was telling:

Tonight was a good start, and Girardi took notice.

“Besides his throw to second base, he was really good,” he said after the game. “For a guy who hasn’t pitched, and we didn’t know what we were going to get from him. I thought he did a great job of getting through that fourth inning for us. I was really pleased with the way he threw the ball tonight.”

A Savvy Veteran Move

Just an excellent job by Andrew McCutchen on the potential third-inning double play ball hit by Bryce Harper. Instead of running directly into the tag of Gleyber Torres, McCutchen pumped the breaks and fell, allowing Harper to reach first base. That extended the inning, which, in turn, led to this:

Quick Observations

  • Deolis Guerra’s clean fifth inning was just the second time the first Phils’ reliever out of the pen held the opposition scoreless this season.
  • Girardi might need to think about shuffling the deck up top. Andrew McCutchen recorded his first multi-hit game of the season, but Rhys Hoskins was again held hitless. He’s now just 3 for 22. The on-base skills are great, but I don’t know how much longer Girardi can write him in there sans a productive swing.
  • The Braves will send right-hander Kyle Wright to the mound against the Phillies tomorrow night. I’m thinking Scott Kingery, who’s off to a rough 2-for-24 start, could use a night off. AP writer Rob Maaddi turned around and said to me in the press box tonight that Kingery’s swing looks long. I agree.
  • After a slow start for Roman Quinn, we got a look at what he brings to the table in this one. The blazing-fast speed on the early triple was impressive, but I also loved his 10-pitch at-bat to lead off the seventh inning. It didn’t translate to a run, but, in time, those efforts add up.
  • It sure feels like we’re going to see the debut of Spencer Howard on Sunday.
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