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October 10, 2023

The Phillies couldn't pile on against the Braves in Game 2, and it came back to bite them

The Phillies struggled with runners in scoring position and lost Game 2 of the NLDS to the Braves, but they do have the series split and the benefit of coming back to Citizens Bank Park now.

The Phillies had the Braves on the ropes Monday night down in Atlanta.

They were up, Zack Wheeler was dealing, and Max Fried was rusty and unsteady with his pitch count rapidly climbing, all while Truist Park had grown dead silent.

The Phils could've really piled it on and put them away, which would've had them coming back to Philadelphia with all the momentum and a near-insurmountable 2-0 series lead in the NLDS, but whenever they had the chance to...they just didn't.

And it came back to bite them.

The Braves rallied back, the Phillies didn't score a run after the fifth, and they ultimately dropped Game 2 by a final of 5-4 to leave the series in a 1-1 split coming back to Citizens Bank Park for Game 3 on Wednesday.

They left 11 runners on base in doing so.

Had the Braves on the ropes, just didn't put them away.

"I thought we had really good at-bats," manager Rob Thomson said postgame. "We got [Fried's] pitch count up really high, and we had runners in scoring position, just didn't get it done tonight. That's the way baseball is."

But in October, you have to pile on the runs whenever and wherever you can, because no postseason club is ever truly down.

The Phils took a 1-0 lead off of Fried early in the opening frame when Trea Turner doubled and then Alec Bohm drove him home with a base hit, jumped out to a 3-0 lead off of J.T. Realmuto's two-run shot in the third, then increased it to 4-0 off the back of some sharp baserunning from Nick Castellanos once Atlanta had reached into the bullpen.

In between, however, were some golden opportunities left on the table.

Bryson Stott had the bases loaded for him again with two outs in the top of the first and Fried wasting away pitches - appearing hesitant to go to his fastball – but there was no game-changing grand slam or even a still devastating bases-clearing hit this time, with Stott instead grounding out to first to get Fried and the Braves out of the jam after 30 pitches and minimal damage done.

Bryce Harper had his shots too, both with runners at first and second. One was in the fourth with two down, but he grounded out, and the other was in the sixth with one out, but he popped out. The latter, after Realmuto also popped out to end the top of the sixth, was followed by the Braves' first run – off of a fielding error by Turner on the throw in from the outfield – which brought on the start of a momentum shift that Wheeler, and later Jeff Hoffman, couldn't hold off.

Atlanta, after being shut out in Game 1, came storming back for the lead behind two-run homers from Travis d'Arnaud in the seventh and then Austin Riley in the eighth. All the while, the Phillies had gone 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

"You get a lead against the team like that, you gotta put 'em away," Realmuto said. "We just weren't able to do it today. We had plenty of opportunity with guys in scoring position to extend our lead, and it just felt like every time that we didn't do that, we gave them a little more chance, a little more momentum...

"We just didn't get it done. You gotta do that stuff right early in the game to win against good teams like that."

But in Game 2, the Phillies just couldn't pile it on.

The Phils' struggles with runners in scoring position from Monday night don't exist in isolation either.

In the 3-0 Game 1 win on Saturday, they also went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left a total of seven runners on base. The several runs they were able to produce, however, were enough when paired with an aggressive bullpen that shut Atlanta down.

Even going back to the Wild Card series, the Phils went 3-for-14 in team RISP for Game 1 and 2-for-9 in Game 2, but pounced on a playoff-inexperienced Marlins club to advance.

The failure to capitalize caught up to the Phils on Monday night though, and against a 104-win juggernaut of a division rival that may have finally woken up.

The series is tied. Game 3 is Wednesday with a flight back to Philly and a day off in between to regroup. How will the Phils respond?

"I mean we came here and did exactly what we wanted," Castellanos said. "We took one out of two, right? Perfect-case scenario we go back 2-0, but now they have to come back to Philly, and there's no place that I'd rather play now for two games.

"We thrive after we get punched in the face, man. That's all it is. Good. It stings. We'll take it, and make it motivate us moving forward."

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