There was about a 20-minute stretch at Citizens Bank Park early Sunday afternoon where it looked like something that had not yet happened for the 2021 Phillies was finally about to happen.
It looked like everything was going to go their way.
J.T. Realmuto started the day with a bang by walking-off the Marlins to win Saturday night’s postponed game and move the Phillies to within two games of the NL East lead. A few moments later, fans cheered as an in-stadium stream of the New York-Pittsburgh game showed the Mets make one of the worst plays you’ll see on a baseball field at any level en route to an early 6-0 deficit.
Meanwhile, the Phillies were about to send National League All-Star Zack Wheeler to the mound against an inexperienced lefty in Braxton Garrett. The 23-year-old entered the day with a 5.56 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 11 1/3 innings this season.
But the rosy pregame outlook changed by the third inning when the Marlins surprisingly hung a four-spot on Wheeler to put the Phillies in a two-run hole.
Through four innings, Garrett allowed six hits and three walks, but the Phillies had just two runs to show for his struggles thanks to a 1-for-7 effort with runners in scoring position.
We appeared to be looking at the Phillies’ latest one step forward, one step back shuffle, but then in a span of just three pitches, solo homers by Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius evened the score.
Andrew McCutchen brings the Phillies to within a run. pic.twitter.com/QwYDSZ6Jrs
— Justin Groc (@jgroc) July 18, 2021
An inning later, the Phillies would take the lead on a Jean Segura sacrifice fly that plated Travis Jankowski, who got things going with a single. They would score again on a McCutchen RBI groundout and tack on an additional run in the eighth as Connor Brogdon, Bailey Falter, and Héctor Neris teamed up to navigate the game’s final nine outs.
With the 7-4 win, the Phillies have now won 10 of 14 games this month while moving two games above .500 for the first time since they were 22-20 back on May 18.
And while the Mets staged a comeback to escape Pittsburgh with a win, the Phillies remain only two games behind for the division lead.
Now, let’s jump into some other observations from the finale of the Phillies’ series win over the Marlins.
Good for Héctor Neris
Listen, we’re well past the point where any competent organization looking to make a playoff run can talk itself into Neris as a permanent closer, but I’ll say this — the guy is resilient.
Philly fans always talk about liking athletes who picks themselves up off the mat, guys who keep swinging after setbacks. Neris may not be the first guy you think of when it comes to such players, but he fits the profile.
His demotion from the closer role bottomed out following an embarrassing Fourth of July outing against the Padres, but he has since rebounded in a big way with six consecutive scoreless appearances, nailing down several key outs during that stretch.
During his recent hot streak, Neris has allowed just two hits without yielding a walk.
Neris gets it done!#Phillies #RingTheBell pic.twitter.com/xRuH4Jvsqd
— Brodes Media (@BrodesMedia) July 18, 2021
Wheeler’s Workload a Cause for Concern?
Staked to an early 2-0 lead, it appeared Wheeler was about to turn in another dominant effort as he breezed through the first two innings.
Zack Wheeler, elevated 97mph Fastball…and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/iyrrbXTVqs
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 18, 2021
Then came a 30-pitch third inning that saw Wheeler give up four runs, five hits, and a walk to put the Phillies in a two-run hole.
To his credit, Wheeler rebounded by giving his team three scoreless innings to produce an overall solid start, hanging around long enough to earn the win. Still, over his last two starts, he has allowed an uncharacteristically high eight earned runs and 14 hits in 11 2/3 innings.
An occasional hiccup or two happens with any pitcher, even those in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber season, but it is fair to keep note of Wheeler’s heavy workload and its possible impact on his performance over the final 70 games of the regular season.
Wheeler leads all Major League pitchers with 125 2/3 innings pitched. His two most recent outings beg the question if Phillies manager Joe Girardi will look to ease Wheeler’s workload when a convenient situation presents itself.
Girardi did not do that in Wheeler’s last outing before the All-Star break, a 97-pitch effort that came in an 8-3 loss to the Cubs back on July 7.
The Phillies were down 5-0 early in that game with Wheeler struggling. Girardi could have opted for an early pull following two high-stress innings and his ace quickly at 48 pitches.
Something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Just Having Fun Out There
One of the keys to quality defensive execution is proper communication. Like they teach at a young age, be loud, be firm, and…skip to the baseball — just like McCutchen did on this second-inning flyout.
just when you think you can't love Cutch more pic.twitter.com/ZD5ANIZ47g
— Absolutely Hammered (@AH_Pod) July 18, 2021
His new technique got a laugh from several of the 20,588 fans in attendance. The guy knows how to have fun.
Jean Segura: Rough Defense, Good Hustle
I can’t say it enough, but good things happen when the ball is put in play.
After the Phillies took advantage of a second-inning passed ball by Marlins catcher Jorge Alfaro that started the scoring, they stole a second run when a Realmuto smash carrying a 108.5 mph exit velocity was bobbled by Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas.
Rojas may have had a play at second base on what was ruled an RBI single by Realmuto, but Jean Segura hauled ass to second base, beating the late flip to the bag. Segura has had some notable hustle and baserunning issues during his time with the Phillies, so credit to him for making something happen.
As for his defense in this one, well, that’s a different story.
What Did You See, Joe?
I had flashbacks of Andy Reid pacing the Eagles sideline while watching Girardi challenge a Wheeler first-inning pickoff attempt. Not only did it come in the first, it came on a play in which it appeared Jazz Chisholm Jr. easily got back safely into the first base bag.
Timing, leverage, and degree of clarity typically dictate challenges, and Girardi’s move didn’t make much sense on any of those three fronts.