Phillies Take Win Series at Nats, Lose on Sunday Night Baseball

The Phillies brutal June schedule brought them to Washington over the weekend. The Phillies took the first two games but couldn’t close out the Nationals on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. The Phils took two of three and now sit ahead of Washington for second place in the NL East Standings.

The Phillies looked nearly unstoppable in Friday night’s 12-2 win. Zach Eflin looked good in five innings of work and the bullpen was sharp over four innings of relief. The Phillies offense exploded for three home runs by Odubel Herrera, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Knapp. Nick Williams joined the fun knocking in three runs while batting 2 for 4. Seeing everything click for the Phils was incredibly encouraging, especially in the first game of a road series. Herrera’s home run was his fifth in as many games, joining a very short list of players to hit homers in five-straight games and have an on-base streak of 40+ games in a single season.

Saturday saw a rough start for Aaron Nola as the Nationals took an early 2-0 lead, however, he and the rest of the Phillies would immediately rebound. Nola and Jorge Alfaro each knocked in a run in the second inning and the game was tied up for Nola to get to work. After six solid innings from Nola, Jesmuel Valentin pinch-hit for Aaron in the top of the seventh with Maikel Franco standing on third base. Valentin got the ball just deep enough for Franco to slide underneath the catcher’s glove at the plate, 3-2 Phils. Tommy Hunter shuts down the Nats in the bottom of the seventh and the Phils plated two in the eighth for insurance. While Adam Morgan would allow a homer from Anthony Rendon, he and Seranthony Dominguez were also able to put the Nats down and the Phillies won Saturday’s game 5-3. Maikel Franco went for 4 for 4 scoring twice and accounting for four of the Phils’ ten hits.

Enter Sunday Night Baseball. Nick Pivetta on the hill for the Phils against Jefry Rodriguez, who was making his second career start. Pivetta looked sharp for the first three innings and by that time, Rhys Hoskins slammed a two-run opposite-field home run. Pivetta ran into some trouble in fourth, however. Pivetta grooved a fastball inside for another Anthony Rendon home run and a series of three seeing-eye singles saw Juan Soto cross the plate to tie the ballgame. As ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza pointed out, Pivetta was losing grip on the baseball due to a thunderstorm picking up and leaving pitches more in the zone for the Nats to hit. The storm forced a rain delay right after the game was tied up. 40 minutes later, Pivetta struck out the next three batters.

The Phils added four runs in the fifth inning thanks to a two-run triple from Odubel Herrera followed by a two-run home run from Nick Williams. Pivetta ran into a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fifth and while he was able to escape, his night would be over thanks to the earlier rain delay. Enter the Phillies bullpen with the team 12 outs away from the sweep. Six relievers used and only two managed to get more than one out–Edubray Ramos, who still let up two runs, and Tommy Hunter, a pleasant surprise. I won’t rehash it run-by-run, but the Phillies bullpen blew the lead and the Nats won 8-6. To be fair, Seranthony Dominguez had Daniel Murphy one strike away from ending the eighth inning. Dominguez threw an incredible breaking ball that only Murphy could hit. A-Rod described it as a “Roger Federer-like swing” and he’s not wrong as the pitch was at Murphy’s ankles.

Once again, Gabe Kapler comes under fire for the bullpen usage and for the decision to walk Juan Soto to load up the bases for Murphy. Kapler’s gamble was that Soto had been a hotter bat all weekend while Murphy is still getting back to his old self. I don’t disagree with the decision, Soto had been killing the Phils and most teams in general over his month and a half career. Dominguez did all he could do, Murphy is just that good when he’s even somewhat on. A-Rod made the point a number of times to not let trends and numbers dictate decision-making, but a hot batter versus even a tepid batter is a no-brainer.

It’s taken me over 700 words to get to what really annoyed me about last night’s game, and it’s not the bullpen! ESPN clearly chose this game for Bryce Harper and Bryce Harper alone. Most of the SportsCenter coverage Sunday morning talked about Harper’s struggles at the plate and how he relates to how the Nationals have so cold lately. The Sunday Night Baseball coverage did much of the same. I understand the conversation about putting Harper into the All-Star Game despite his batting average is a conversation worth having but I don’t need A-Rod pointing out Harper exhaling when he doubles versus holding his breath when he strikes out. The ESPN crew even spent the Phillies’ offensive innings talking about Harper and were talking about him when Rhys hit his home run. The ball was over the fence by the time they even acknowledged that Rhys put the ball in play.

Again, I get that Bryce Harper is one of the game’s bright stars and you have a game plan for the narrative of a broadcast–especially for a baseball game. Thankfully, they mentioned how young the Phillies are and the mountain of cash they’re sitting on–basically all the main Phillies-related talking points. It’s just frustrating when they seemingly only talk about that when the other team is hitting. The worst was that they needed to point out that Odubel was “showcased” at the top of the broadcast basically to say “remember it’s not all Harper.” The Phils will be on National TV plenty of other times over the next few years so pundits will have time to love our boys. Until then, I’ll keep complaining about our crappy bullpen in other recap blogs.

Bottom line is the Phillies have won four-straight series against four quality opponents. The New York Yankees come into town starting Monday night. Vince Velasquez (5-7) will take the mound for the Phillies against the Yankees’ Jonathan Loaisiga (1-0). Tonight will be Loaisiga’s third career start but he will be without catcher Gary Sanchez who has been placed on the DL.

(cover photo via)

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