Good Early, Phils’ Late Mistakes Overshadow Positives in Loss

PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For a few innings on Tuesday night, it looked like some unusually crisp small ball might propel the Phillies to a series-opening win over the Braves.

And then, well, you know. Don’t you?

Yeah, you do.

The Phillies missed out on an insurance run in the seventh before the bullpen quickly turned a one-run lead into a four-run deficit. Of course, some poor defense was also on display in what eventually became a disheartening 9-5 loss.

But I’m a positive guy, so after this clunker, I choose to lead with the perfectly-executed safety squeeze and bunt base-hit. I opt to note the heads-up baserunning and the quality approaches leading to balls slapped through vacated holes in the Braves’ infield.

It was like turn back the clock night at Citizens Bank Park, if only for a fleeting hour or two. It was a brief flashback to a game gone by — a temporary reprieve from the all-or-nothing form baseball has too often taken in recent years.

That’s how I’ll remember this one.

All right, maybe not.

Still, we spend so much time talking about this team’s many shortcomings, and, truthfully, the Phillies actually did some good things in this one. For the sake of keeping things fresh, let’s change it up a bit at the top and begin with the positives:

  • After a leadoff single in the third inning, Alec Bohm went first to third in stride when a Ronald Torreyes single kicked off the glove of Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. Both Bohm’s read and aggressiveness set up a first and third situation for Aaron Nola, a career .105 hitter who entered the night with 8 RBI in 278 plate appearances.

 

  • Instead of flailing away into a potential strikeout or double-play, Nola instead executed a well-placed safety squeeze to plate Bohm and get the Phils on the board. Nice work all around.

 

  • Later, with the Phillies trailing 4-2 in the fifth, newly-promoted Luke Williams used his first major league at-bat to lay down a perfectly-placed bunt single, one that ended with the rookie standing on third after a single and two-base error by Braves starter Drew Smyly. He would score two batters later on a Jean Segura double to make it a 4-3 game.

  • No, this probably isn’t exactly how most 12 year olds dream up their first big league at-bat, but it was a perfect bunt by Williams, one that temporarily looked like it would ignite a comeback victory. The versatile Williams, who told reporters before the game that he brought eight different gloves with him to Philadelphia, wasted little time making an impact with the big club. See, another positive.

 

  • After J.T. Realmuto tied things up in the sixth, it appeared some more small ball might give the Phillies the lead for good when Bohm singled, moved to third as Torreyes hit a well-placed 20-hopper through the right side, and scored after Brad Miller went the other way on a first-pitch RBI single.

It was not to be, however.

After the Phillies failed to cash in on the aforementioned scoring opportunity in the seventh, Atlanta’s Austin Riley would tie the game an inning later with a bomb off of Phillies reliever Connor Brogdon.

The homer was followed by a walk, a playable infield single that kicked off Rhys Hosksins’ glove, a run-scoring single, Sam Coonrod’s disastrous play, and an assorted mess of other events that ultimately overshadow all the positive stuff highlighted above.

Worst of all, none of this even addresses perhaps the Phillies’ biggest issue after their latest loss, which is Nola’s latest underwhelming performance.

The Struggle Is Real

To put it lightly, Nola is going through it right now. I don’t have piping hot takes for you here — I don’t think he sucks. I don’t think he’s washed. He’s not a bum.

That said, he also hasn’t been consistently good for well over a month, and he struggled through five innings on Tuesday night against the Braves, often struggling to locate his fastball.

Nola allowed four earned runs on seven hits to go along with two walks. Atlanta scored in four of five innings against Nola, who left the game after 89 pitches.

Before we continue, it’s not all bad. Nola’s average fastball velocity sat at 92.8 mph, which is right in line with his 92.6 mph season average. Meanwhile, the Braves whiffed on 15 of their 50 swings (30%).

Such numbers suggest his stuff still plays, but inconsistencies with command have translated into too many mistakes. For instance:

That miss resulted in a 460-foot moonshot that left the bat of Ronald Acuรฑa Jr. at 116 mph. To provide some additional context about those numbers, 116 mph is the highest exit velocity produced by any Braves player since Statcast began tracking such data back in 2015.

Since May 9, Nola has allowed 38 hits, 20 earned runs, and seven homers in 31 2/3 IP across six starts to the tune of a 5.68 ERA. It’s not much of a surprise the Phillies are just 1-5 over his last six starts.

It Had Been A Minute

Bryce Harper’s home run drought had reached a total 55 plate appearances and 48 official at-bats when he came to the plate in the fourth inning. Harper, who had not homered since May 11, finally ended his power outage with a 3-0 swing on a poorly-located 93 mph fastball from Smyly:

Interestingly, the solo shot was Harper’s first on a 3-0 pitch with the Phillies and his first in that count since the 2018 season.

In the end, however, his efforts were wasted, much like this photo, which I most certainly would have used as the featured image on this story had the Phillies won.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

 

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