Oh-Double! Thoughts on Odubel Herrera’s Gamble and Phillies 6, Rockies 1

Sep 11, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera (37) reacts after hitting a two RBI bunt against the Colorado Rockies during the fourth inning at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

During the Phillies four-game losing streak that put them on the brink of irrelevance for yet another September, the frustrated voices in the locker room were all singing the same tune about the stagnant offense.

They needed to find more ways to “move the line.”

You heard it from Joe Girardi. You heard it from MVP candidate Bryce Harper. You saw it in the way that Brad Miller took out his hinger on the helmet rack.

Move the line.

That simply means, have competitive at bats. Make opposing pitchers work. Find ways to get on base and then hand it over to the next guy to do the same thing, and so on and so forth.

And those competitive at bats mean to hit the ball hard, or put it in play, or put pressure on the defense. In the process, cut down on strikeouts and weak contact, especially early in the count and without runners on base.

And sometimes it means to get creative.

Well, the Phillies called on two old standards to try to jump start the offense Saturday – Walks and Homeruns. But when it came time for the most crucial at bat of the game, the Phillies turned to something creative. Something that hasn’t been seen in Philadelphia baseball since who knows when.

I’m referring to the good ol’ bases loaded, two-out bunt double.

Herrera took advantage of Colorado’s shift and surprised everyone when he laid the bunt down in that spot. He not only kept it fair, but bunted it just hard enough that Rockies’ third baseman Ryan McMahon, who was basically playing shortstop in the shift, couldn’t get to it, allowing the ball to continue to roll into the outfield.

Two runs scored on the play as Herrera coasted into second base with a double and it gave the Phillies a three-run lead en route to a 6-1 win over the Rockies.

Couple this with losses by Atlanta, San Diego and Cincinnati and the Phillies (72-70), who a day earlier were starting to think maybe NOT this year… again, somehow remained alive in the playoff chase, closing to within 3 1/2 games of the Braves for first place in the NL East and within 2 1/2 of the Padres and Reds for the final NL Wild Card spot.

The climb out of the hole the Phillies created is still a steep one. They’ll likely have to win 15 of their 20 remaining game to have a real shot, but they lived to fight another day.

It was a headsy play by Herrera, a guy who is often razzed by scribes and broadcasters for his boneheadedness.

It wasn’t called from the bench either. It was all Herrera, who saw the shift and felt like he could beat it with a well executed bunt.

It was also the first two-run bunt double in the majors in almost three years. The last was by Orlando Arcia, then with the Milwaukee Brewers, against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 14, 2018.

Jean Segura, Brad Miller and Harper all later homered to put the icing on the cake for the offense, but only those two runs on Herrera’s but double were needed with Zack Wheeler on the hill.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Wheeler, the Phillies de facto ace for this 2021 season, had a mostly typical Wheeler evening. He allowed jut one run – a homer by Trevor Story – and only four hits in 6 2/3 innings to pick up his 13th win of the year. He also struck out eight, including career K No. 1000.

As had been the case in a few of his rocky starts in mid-late August, Wheeler started to reach the end of his rope right around 100 pitches. He hadn’t walked anyone until the seventh inning, and then he walked two batters. Girardi pulled him with two outs and the bases loaded and turned to the oft-erratic Jose Alvarado to get Charlie Blackmon. It was the most crucial at bat of the game from a Phillies pitching perspective, because if Blackmon gets on and trims the Phillies lead, Alvarado would have had to face the next two hitters in Colorado’s lineup, Brendan Rodgers and Story – both who feast on lefties.

So, it was a gamble going to Alvarado, but he came through, inducing a ground out by Blackmon to get out of the inning.

With the win, Wheeler matched a career high in wins. He also matched a career high in innings pitched in a season (195 2/3) and leads the Majors in innings pitched and the national league in strikeouts. He has four starts remaining to add on to his potential Cy Young resume (although he’s likely going to come up short what with Max Scherzer looking like his former Cy Young self and Corbin Burnes throwing lights out for MIlwaukee, as he authored the first eight innings of a major league record ninth no-hitter this season Saturday as the Brewers blanked the Cleveland Indians).

LONG Ball

The Phillies three home runs all had some distance and each got progressively more impressive.

First, it was Jean Segura’s 12th of the year that put the Phillies up 4-1:

Segura had three of the six hardest hit balls of the night for either team, according to Statcast. After a big dip down to .283, Segura is now back knocking on the door of .300 again as he got his average back to .297. He’s also elevated his OPS to an impressive .803.

Next up was Miller, who was last seen beating the daylights out of a helmet rack. This time, he channeled all his energy into one swing against Tyler Kinley:

It was his 18th home run of the season, and he too is rapidly approaching that .800 OPS plateau (.797).

Then there’s Harper, who continues to put together an absolutely impressive season, launching, and I do mean LAUNCHING his 31st homer of the season into the Rockies bullpen, which sits above and back from the Phillies bullpen.

Speaking of an impressive OPS, Harper is now at 1.026 for the season, but an even more dazzling figure is what Harper has done since the All-Star break.

In 226 plate appearances in the unofficial second half of the season, Harper is hitting .341 with a .473 on base percentage. He has 16 homers, and 37 RBI. All told he has 60 hits, 35 of which are for extra bases, which leads the majors. His OPS in that time? a cool 1.200.

He probably deserves the NL MVP regardless of where the Phillies finish, but if they somehow sneak into the playoffs, it should be a foregone conclusion.

What’s Next?

The Phillies wrap up their four game series with the Rockies Sunday at 1PM as Aaron Nola (7-8, 4.57) squares off against Ryan Feltner (0-1, 20.25). It’s a matchup that definitely favors the Phillies, so maybe they’ll score runs for Nola.

And if you are scoreboard watching:

The Braves, behind lefty Max Fried (11-7, 3.42) wrap up their series at home against the Miami Marlins and Edward Cabrera (0-1, 7.11).

The Reds finish their series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. Sonny Gray (7-6, 3.88) is on the hill for Cincinnati while former Phillie J.A. Happ (8-7, 6.20) toes the rubber for the Redbirds.

Finally, the Padres look to snap a losing skid behind Blake Snell (7-6, 4.22) as they wrap up their series in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and Scherzer (13-4, 2.28).

Yes, you are a Marlins, Cardinals and Dodgers fan on Sunday.

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