Zach Eflin, Alec Bohm Deliver as Bullpen (!) Finishes Sweep of Braves

Apr 4, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Phillies infielder Alec Bohm (28) hits an RBI single in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

When baseball people talk about Alec Bohm’s offensive game, they typically use words like “mature” and “advanced” to describe his approach at the plate.

In a game rife with all-or-nothing over-swinging, Bohm is a bit of a throwback to the “take what the pitcher gives you” school of thought. That’s exactly what he did during the eighth inning of Sunday’s game by delivering the game-winning RBI single, a knock that helped the Phillies complete a season-opening sweep of the Braves.

With runners at first and second — and the Phillies mired in a rough 6-for-27 start to the season with runners in scoring position — Bohm, who is hitting .455 with RISP early in his career, took a 1-2 slider from Braves reliever Chris Martin into center to give his team a 2-1 lead.

Easy does it.

From there, Hector Neris would take the ball from Jose Alvarado, who worked a clean eighth inning, and nail down his first save of the season.

It did not come without drama, but Neris’ scoreless inning capped the third consecutive game in which the Phillies bullpen did not yield a run. That is a feat it did not accomplish during the 2020 season.

Seriously.

In fact, the Phillies bullpen has now recorded 22 consecutive outs without allowing a run to start the season. Only once over the 60-game schedule a season ago did the bullpen record 22 consecutive outs without allowing a run.

Ironically, that was its longest streak of the season.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that this year’s bullpen, while appearing prone to offering a bumpy ride, appears markedly better.

Yeah, I guess that’s my thesis.

Zach Eflin, Too, Was Dealing

Time will tell if Zach Eflin will ultimately have the breakout season that many observers such as myself expect, but he made quite the first impression on Sunday afternoon with seven strong innings against the Braves.

Working with roughly 85 pitches at his disposal, Eflin needed 23 of them right away in an uncharacteristically inefficient first inning. But his sinker was on from start, helping him to record two early strikeouts and set the tone early.

Eflin would quickly get back on track by remarkably recording the next 18 outs with just 57 additional pitches. He completed seven innings, giving the Phillies a third straight outstanding start.

Have a look at these combined series numbers from Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Eflin:

20.2 IP, 11H, 3ER, 1BB, 24K, 1.31 ERA, 0.581 WHIP

Mind you, these numbers came against a lineup that produced the second most runs in baseball a year ago. Pretty damn impressive.

Now, if Phillies pitchers can just avoid serving up game-tying homers with two outs in the seventh, they’re going to be in great shape moving forward.

But that’s what happened for the second time in three games, as Atlanta scored for just the first time in 19 innings dating back to Thursday afternoon when catcher Travis d’Arnaud ripped a shot over the left field wall on a hanging curveball to put the lone blemish on Eflin’s day:

Amazingly, the Braves scored in just two of 28 innings in the series with all three runs coming in the seventh inning with two outs on the board.

And yet, there’s no arguing with the results when your guy takes the ball and gives you 21 outs while allowing just four hits and a walk against eight strikeouts.

The Phillies have great expectations at the top of this rotation, and it delivered in a big way this weekend.

Where’s the Knockout Blow?

This weekend offered a good news, bad news split for the Phillies lineup.

On Thursday, Phillies hitters did a nice job of getting Braves starter Max Fried on the ropes early. They only plated two runs and failed to deliver a knockout blow, but Fried needed a taxing 94-pitch effort to survive five frames.

Charlie Morton was more efficient on Saturday afternoon, throwing just 76 pitches over five innings, but a two-out rally in fifth sparked by a Zack Wheeler RBI single and Rhys Hoskins two-run double knocked him out of the game.

On Sunday, the lineup once again worked through at-bats, quickly running Braves starter Ian Anderson to 70 pitches through just three innings, eventually forcing an exit after five innings with 88 pitches thrown.

All of this is very good and, as I wrote the other day, grinding ABs is a valuable characteristic as this team attempts to neutralize the number of outstanding starters taking up residence in the National League East.

Of course, there were two small problems.

The Phillies, again, couldn’t deliver a big hit to break things open. Anderson worked out of a first inning and jam and mostly kept the Phillies quiet, limiting them to an 0-for-3 effort with runners in scoring position.

His lone mistake came in the second inning when backup catcher Andrew Knapp launched a missile out to right field, missing his own face on the right field video board by inches.

If you had Knapp with the Phillies’ first homer of the season coming in the third game, nicely played.

Still, by the time Anderson departed, Phillies hitters were just 6-for-26 (.231) with 24 runners left on base for the series.

Bohm delivered later in the game, but the Phillies will hope for better and more consistent situational hitting moving forward.

Center of Attention

A great deal of time was spent focusing on the team’s center field situation last month, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon until it begins getting steady production from the position.

It wasn’t all bad. On Thursday, Roman Quinn made a sensational play to help preserve a 2-2 tie in extra innings, but he was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts against the Braves over the weekend.

Adam Haseley, who left Thursday’s game early, started Sunday and had mixed results. He was 1-for-2 with an infield single, but he also didn’t take a crisp route to a third-inning single off the bat of Anderson.

The ball was hit hard, but it also carried an expected batting average of just .200. Certainly, it wasn’t an easy play with Haseley shaded away from the left-center gap, but that’s a grab that needs to be made more often than not.

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