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October 21, 2023

Who's to blame for Phillies blown NLCS lead?

Can the Phillies figure out how to win on the road again?

It was supposed to be a sweep. The Phillies should be back in Philadelphia resting right now.

After an offensive onslaught and out-scoring a seemingly overmatched Diamondbacks team 15-3 in Philadelphia, the series has been tied 2-2 and the Phillies look like they're on the ropes.

The team has faltered in back-to-back one-score games in the desert, each of which was of the "we blew it" variety. Before they look to take control back in what is sure to be a tense Game 5, let's play the fifth major sport in Philadelphia — the blame game. 

Who's fault is this?

The manager

Rob Thomson is known as an aggressive, confident manager who would rather roll the dice and get it wrong than regret not acting. However, he's made some costly gambles over the last two games.

• We'll start with his refusal to mix up his batting order. Bryson Stott continues to struggle, and Nick Castellanos in the 7-hole has cooled way off. The offense sputtered in Game 3 and didn't do enough in Game 4. And yet he hasn't moved a single player around. Maybe it's time?

• In Game 3, he went with rookie Orion Kerkering in the seventh inning instead of one of his many experienced postseason veterans. The flamethrower gave up a run — which was the margin in the game and the Phils lost by that same margin. It as an off choice, and might have been a little taste of hubris for the usually on-point level puller.

• In Game 4, he plowed through eight different pitches in what essentially a bullpen game. Is he overworking the pen?

The bullpen

The Phillies' manager pulled the trigger on Craig Kimbrel for a second straight night on Friday after a blown save the night before and the same result occurred. Thomson can be given a pass for the decision — Kimbrel's track record earned him the right to pitch again in Game 4.

Kimbrel has two blown saves, and he's looked shaky in each appearance. Jose Alvarado was in a tough spot cleaning up after him in Game 4, but he allowed the game-winning run to Arizona that evened the series. The Phillies sort of breezed through the first two rounds of the postseason and the first two games of the NLCS. The high-leverage spots are turning into disasters and the pen needs to rebound if the Phillies hope to salvage the series.

The hitting

In Philly, the Phillies had 20 hits and the Diamondbacks had eight. In Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix, the Phillies had 11 hit and the Diamondbacks 18. Philly has scores just six runs after scoring 15. The home run churn has also not surprisingly cooled off. Philly hit 19 homers before Game 3, and have just one since. Their last 14 homers have all been solo shots by the way.

Philadelphia also has been just 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position on the road after going 7-for-17 in Philadelphia. Notice the difference in success rate (29% to 42%) and total opportunities in the home and away split there. The Phils are basically a different team on the road in the postseason and have gone 1-5 in their last six tries. If they drop Game 5, can they be trusted to just automatically hit really well back in Philly again? 

If you don't include the team's Game 162 win in New York to end the regular season — a game played by mostly backups — the Phillies haven't won a meaningful road game since September 20th in Atlanta, aside obviously from the one playoff game they won on the road, also in Atlanta, in Game 1 of the NLDS. 

Ironically, it's possible they have home-field advantage in a potential World Series match up with the Astros, should Houston handle the Rangers in the ALCS this weekend. Which means that, theoretically, the Phillies could only win at home for the next two weeks and still lift the Commissioner's Trophy. 

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