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October 29, 2022

Instant observations: Zack Wheeler and offense fall flat in World Series Game 2 loss

HOUSTON — Leading the World Series 1-0, on the road, with your ace taking the mound is an ideal scenario. Unfortunately for the Phillies, it's been extremely hard to predict what will happen at the ballpark each night, and a stinker of a loss, 5-2, to the Astros Saturday night has the Fall Classic tied 1-1 ahead of a series shift to Philadelphia.

Zack Wheeler just didn't have it and the offense didn't have another epic five-run comeback in it.

Here's a look at what happened on the field as the Phillies try and have a short memory, hopping on a plane back home for three games in South Philly starting Monday:

The good

• Let's talk big picture here for a second. A split in Houston is good. It's exactly what was needed. Winning Game 1 only created a mirage that the Phillies could run away with this series and that simply is not realistic. Like they have in every series so far this postseason, Philly returns home with home field advantage. They'll play at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and they will have a realistic chance to take control of the series. 

There are a lot of concerns, to be sure. The offense sputtered for the first time in a while on Saturday. Their two aces are far from firing on all cylinders and they don't have much firepower behind them. But Rob Thomson has shown he knows how to manage this team and pull the right levers. And the offense is so loaded with talent, they should have no problem winning a couple games at home (where they are 5-0). There are reasons to worry, but optimism should prevail. They can hang with the Astros. It's a best-of-five series now and Philly has won three-of-five a bunch of times this season over some very good teams.

• Avoiding a shutout, the Phillies manufactured a run in the seventh inning, using a leadoff double from Nick Castellanos, a groundout and sac fly to get on the board, 5-1. These Phillies fight even when things are bad, and it's hard to imagine a team like this getting totally blanked even on a bad night.

• We're stretching a bit for some more good here, but Alec Bohm has been extremely impressive playing third base, and made another web gem like play in the fifth inning in Game 2:

• Bryson Stott drew one hell of a walk to leadoff the eighth, coming off the bench to pinch hit and help turn the lineup over. He burned through 12 pitches, the final one putting him on first with a free pass. Stott should be considered as a leadoff man next year (assuming the Phillies don't make a splashy upgrade like Trea Turner). 

• Bohm hit a double off the wall in center with one out in the ninth. He would score after Brandon Marsh hit a two-bagger of his own just off the first base bag. It ended up being of no consequence as Ryan Pressly was able to close it out — but there is some confidence to be gained from the Phillies knowing they can get to the Astros best reliever.

The bad

• It was hard to recognize Wheeler out there when the Astros first came to the plate. The Phillies' ace had a 1.78 ERA this postseason entering Game 2 of the World Series, and he allowed back-to-back-to-back doubles on just four pitches before retiring a batter for the first time. Throwing strikes has been Wheeler's mantra throughout his career and obviously the Astros were prepared to swing early in the count Saturday. It also looked like the extra day off may have had some kind of an effect on Wheeler who hasn't sat this long between outings since his short stint on the IL this summer.

In all though, Wheeler was solid but far from his Cy Young-caliber self. He battled his way through five innings and has proven that even a bad day for Wheeler is a decent day for pretty much every other Phillies starter. Take away a few mistakes that resulted in hard hit balls for Houston and it could have been a different story.

Adding insult to injury, back in the eventful first, the defensive hiccups that have tortured fans all season returned later in the inning, as Rhys Hoskins was unable to cleanly scoop up a low throw on a ground ball from Edmundo Sosa, an unearned run giving the Astros a 3-0 lead just like they had in Game 1.

• Another Wheeler mistake put the Phillies down five again. After finding his footing for a few innings, the Phillies ace surrendered a no doubter two-run homer to Alex Bregman in the fifth. Expecting the Phillies to comeback twice from this many down is a pretty big ask. The real concern is whether the Phillies will be able to rely on their two top pitchers during a second time through the rotation after Nola had similar struggles Friday night.

• The Phillies offense seemed to sleepwalk through five frames, collecting a handful of walks and singles, but nothing that made much noise. In the sixth they finally got two men on with no out, setting up a potential scoring opportunity for the heart of the order. There was no scoring to speak of, as Game 1 hero J.T. Realmuto struck out and Bryce Harper hit into a double play. Sometimes you just don't have it — and the Phillies certainly did not in their second go-round in Houston.

• Some days the offense isn't feeling it and this qualifies. No real detailed analysis can break this down — they saw a lot of pitches and created some chances, but it was just a bad day at the office. This team should bounce back at home and score some runs in South Philly.

The last time Harper went hitless was 12 games ago, in Game 1 of the Wild Card against the Cardinals. Hard to fault him for this loss, but the hitting streak and insane run of clutch hitting is over (at least temporarily).

The ugly

• There were a lot of off field shenanigans in this one, including Astros catcher Martin Maldonado apparently using an illegal bat in Game 1 (he had an RBI!), and Game 2 starter Framber Valdez maybe relying on a foreign substance to help him throw an incredible 6.1 innings of shutout baseball. 

It's always interesting with the Astros. Cheating in baseball doesn't seem to be a topic that is going out of style.

• This clearly looked foul in the ballpark but I have never seen a hitter round the bases on a home run that was foul before. It would have been nice — but it was just outside the right field pole for Schwarber.

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