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October 21, 2023

Instant observations: Phillies jump ahead in NLCS thanks to homers, Wheeler gem

In classic Phillies' fashion, power pitching and power bats have them in prime position.

The Philadelphia Phillies (as opposed to the Phillies playing in Arizona the last two nights) showed up in Phoenix Saturday night, flexing their offensive muscles and a Zack Wheeler gem to seize a 6-1 win and control of the NLCS as it heads back to Philly.

After a pair of one-run collapses, Game 6 in South Philly Monday (either at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. depending on whether the ALCS goes to a Game 7) will give the Phils a chance to earn a second straight NL pennant and trip to Texas for the World Series. 

A collective sigh of relief after Saturday night's onslaught will give sports fans a chance to relax and focus on the Eagles and Dolphins Sunday night before baseball resumes when the weekend ends.

Here's a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from a momentous Game 5 win:

The good

• It really can't be overstated how impactful the win in Game 5 was for a Phillies squad licking its wounds from two missed opportunities earlier in the series that wound up as one-run losses. Being tested and escaping adversity is important for a team ramping to potentially try and overcome demons from a World Series past, and if things get tough in a potential Fall Classic match up the entire team can be confident they've been thoroughly battle tested this October.

• Kyle Schwarber has five home runs in the NLCS. Including last year he has 11 homers in the pennant-deciding series. It's the most all time. Insane. His moonshot in the sixth inning traveled 461 feet and left zero doubt, leading his bat at a scorching 114 MPH. 

• Home runs are contagious. The Phillies have proven it this October. Harper went yard in the sixth two hitters after Schwarber, upping the Phillies lead to 4-0. Make that 16 consecutive home runs of the solo variety this postseason. During the regular season, 125 of their 220 homers solo shots.

• Realmuto broke the solo streak with his two-run bomb in the eighth, all but assuring a 6-1 win and chance to clinch back at home on Monday.

• The Phillies aggressive base running has been a detriment at times during the playoffs but it served them well in the first inning Saturday, as a super agro double steal attempt sparked another pretty bizarre scoring scene.

At first Stott looked stuck in no man's land but he knew exactly what he was doing. Harper's big time slide into home gave the Phils a big second run and sort of emphasized the way Rob Thomson's entire roster is approaching every opportunity.

• Prior to the run that was officially scored as a stolen home base, previously ice cold Stott made good on Thomson's decision to keep him hitting in the heart of the Phillies' order all postseason. He hit an RBI-single to get Philly up early, 1-0. The run plated Schwarber single who reached base on a rare dribbler of a base hit to lead things off.

• Thank goodness — at least in the fifth — for the gigantic pitcher-friendly park that is Chase Field. A deep fly out that likely would have been out of Citizens Bank Park was was run down by Johan Rojas to keep the score 2-0 (it would have been a game-tying homer from Corbin Carroll). 

Via FantasyPros, the Diamondbacks' home is one of the five most "homer depressing" ballparks in baseball. Not surprisingly, the Phils' home in South Philly is among the top five "homer amplifying" stadiums.

The bad

• Alec Bohm continues to hit fourth in the batting order and he continues to do basically nothing there. Protection for Harper could be coming from a lot of other places with the Phillies boasting power and place discipline up and down the order. He's hitting just .205 this postseason and Thomson, for all his perpetual tinkering and roster moves is refusing to shake up his lineup this postseason. Harper somehow has still seen pitches to hit and has a .353 batting average and ridiculous .522.

• Wheeler's lone blemish came in the bottom of the seventh when Alek Thomas went deep yet again to get the Diamondbacks on the board. Expecting perfection from the Phillies is a high standard — and allowing one run over seven full innings is pretty damn close.

The umpire ugly

• The argument about upgrading to a "robo-ump" was pretty unanimous in sports bars across Philadelphia Saturday night, as yet another home plate ump interfered with the success of the team.

Not only has the strike zone been woefully inconsistent this postseason — as we wrote about in this space recently — but the patience of the Phillies at the plate and great eye for the strike zone is being decimated and the team is starting to lose serious outs to bad calls at the plate.

• One more entry for "ugly." A lot has been written, on this website and a lot of others, about fan behavior and the contrast between the Phillies fans and others in Major League Baseball — the Diamondbacks and others. You can be sure that the following would never happen in Citizens Bank Park:

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